Last week a Facebook friend posted a quote about procrastination. She said:
The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.
This leads me to believe that I should be either an eater of chocolate, a librarian, or a full-time reader of books.
I adore books.
But I especially love memoirs. I am not a fast reader. I regularly pause to ponder on a scene description, or a line of dialogue, or a character’s actions and intentions.
Although the best authors make fictional characters come to life, in memoir, the main character is a real person. That leads to even more thinking because I wonder where she is today, what she is thinking and doing.
And I like to find the common things that bond us as humans, regardless of our ethnic, language and cultural differences.
I Am Malala: A Review
Last year a writer at Whidbey Island Writers’ Conference who had done the voicing for the audiobook introduced me to I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.
Malala Yousafzai is the 12-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the face while riding home from school in October 2012.
She was singled out by the Taliban because she had spoken out for the rights of girls to go to school.
Three teachers and twenty girls were crammed into the white Toyota that hot, sticky afternoon, but the gunman was looking for only one: Malala.
I Am Malala has so many layers. It can be read on many different levels, depending on your gender, age, culture, religious faith (or absence of) and, yes, your political leanings.
It is always a danger applying a Western set of eyes to the story of a young woman from an Eastern culture. But that is precisely when I learn the most: when I drop my pretenses and jump into a story with no preconceptions.
That is a hard thing to do, but I try.
You will, of course, want to read it for yourself, but I’m sharing here just a few excerpts from this gem of a book.
On Malala’s homeland before the Taliban
“WELCOME TO PARADISE, it says on a sign as you enter the valley. We have fields of wildflowers, orchards of delicious fruit, emerald mines and rivers full of trout.
“Islam came to the Swat Valley in the eleventh century, when Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni invaded from Afghanistan and became their ruler. We lived in the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains. Our house was one story and proper concrete. On the left were steps up to a flat roof big enough to play cricket on. It was our playground. At dusk my father and his friends gathered to sit and drink tea there. Sometimes I sat on the roof too, watching the smoke rise from the cooking fires all around and listening to the nightly racket of the crickets.
A valley full of fruit trees on which grow the sweetest figs and pomegranates and peaches, and in our garden, grapes, guavas and persimmons. There was a plum tree in our front yard which gave the most delicious fruit. It was always a race between us and the birds to get them. The birds loved that tree. Even the woodpeckers.”
Sometimes we can almost forget the horrors and violence she experienced when she describes memories in a young child’s voice.:
“From the rooftop I watched the mountains change with the seasons. In the autumn chill winds would come. In the winter everything was white snow, long icicles hanging from the rook like daggers, which we loved to snap off. We raced around, building snowmen and snow bears and trying to catch snowflakes.”
On her sadness leaving her home in Pakistan
While she is in awe of the first world advancements she sees when she travels to England for life-saving medical treatment, still, she is deeply homesick for her homeland.:
“My country is centuries behind this one. Here there is any convenience you can imagine. Water running from every tap, hot and cold as you wish; lights at the flick of a switch, day and night; no need for oil lamps; ovens to cook on that don’t need anyone to go and fetch gas cylinders from the bazaar. Here everything is so modern one can even find food ready cooked in packets.
Now, every morning, I long to see my old room full of things, my clothes all over the floor, and my school prizes on the shelves. Instead I am in a country which is five hours behind my beloved homeland Pakistan and my home in the Swat Valley. “
On gender roles and patriarchy in Pakistan
She is perceptive enough to know that boys are more valued in her culture than girls are.
“I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children. For most Pashtuns, it’s a gloomy day when a daughter is born.”
And yet Malala’s father sensed something different about her, even asking his friends to throw dried fruits, sweets and coins into her cradle, something usually done only for baby boys.
By the age of seven she was at the top of her class in a male-dominated school.
But by the time she was ten, the Taliban had come to the valley and soon after, beauty parlors and CD shops closed, polio vaccines for children were stopped and, finally, girls and women were forbidden from going to school. By 2008, 400 schools had been destroyed by the Taliban.
On ancient culture and centuries-old traditions
“We live by a code called Pashtunwali, which obliges us to give hospitality to all guests and in which the most important value is nang, or honor. The worst thing that can happen to a Pushtun is loss of face. Shame is a very terrible thing for a Pashtun man.”
Another part of the code said that a girl from one tribe can be given to another tribe to resolve a feud.
But Malala wondered, “Why should a girl’s life be ruined to settle a dispute she had nothing to do with?”
On the normalcy of ongoing violence
We are all familiar with fourth grade math class, but when all you have seen all your life is war and fighting, at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, children in refugee camp schools worked on problems like this one:
“If out of 10 Russian infidels, 5 are killed by one Muslim, how many infidels are left?”
Gives new meaning to the term “story problem.”
But Malala took conflict in stride. It was the only world she knew. She wrote rather matter-of-factly about gunfire and explosions at schools and suicide bombings. She described how children in her village stopped their games of hide-and-seek and started playing army vs. Taliban.
I have not read many stories of life in a war-torn country told from the perspective of a child. If you like to study religions, cultures and history, and care about the future of the world’s children, I think you will enjoy reading Malala’s inspiring and courageous story, too.
Have you read I Am Malala yet? Did you read another good book this summer? Care to share?