The recent spate of autobiographies the readers (cricket fanatics to be specific, Sachin’s coveted autobiography being a forerunner here) have been subjected to, and consequently their reviews, are perhaps too fresh in the readers’ mind to accommodate any more at this juncture. And with Malala Yousafzai, who became the youngest Nobel laureate by securing the Nobel Peace Prize this year, dominating the headlines for quite a while now, we have probably had enough of her too. A review of her acclaimed autobiography, I Am Malala, doesn’t herald a a very unstereotypical, unhackneyed commentary then, does it? And yet, that is exactly what this article will be simply because the book isn’t the quintessential, narcissistic narrative that autobiographies usually tend to be.
What makes Malala, as a text, stand apart is her extensive focus on the social setting she sets out to describe. Replete with histories of wars, political conflicts and religious and communal traditions, Malala strives hard to invoke the empathy and emotional identification an outsider’s eye would generally miss. She gives us a strong insight into the Taliban-infested Swat Valley in Pakistan and makes us as much a part of it as she is. Co-writer Christina Lamb renders the narrative in plain, factual prose that serves to make it more poignant and affective. She lays bare all the facts, undistorted by her (and Malala’s) own judgements and preconceptions, making reader-involvement easier. Neither does she dilute or omit any of the infamous, heinous acts of the Taliban, the army and even of the dictators. Her historical background is well-researched and well-placed in the story, aiding in further elucidation of the state of her country, an alien land for us. In short, the book gives us the true picture and despite presenting some glaring follies of her society and religion, never imposes a moralistic view on the readers.
Another fact that makes this a good read is the clear absence of self-centred ideas and philosophies. Malala doesn’t struggle to take the centre-stage in the book. In fact, this is less a story of Malala and more of Swat valley and its people. She gives ample space to all the other people in her story, significantly to her father, who comes out as a kind of an unsung hero in the book. She happily gives him the credit for her own celebrated endeavours and makes sure to impinge upon the reader the significance of her family and friends in her life. She lauds her father’s efforts towards peace in the valley, which are perhaps much more vigorous and prolific than Malala’s and has no qualms in making him the hero of the story. She acknowledges everyone who has affected her in any way and that includes a neighbour who she had started to steal from.
One of the greatest achievements of the book, however, is that Malala manages to make her story microcosmic to all human beings, whether Pakistanis or not. It is eventually about speaking up for one’s rights, the fight for peace and alarmingly misplaced religious passions, and about how even one voice can make a difference. Malala has been extolled enough, people say. Yet this book is a must on every reader’s shelf, perhaps not because of who it is about, but because of the story and the brilliance with which it is told.