This is a wonderful, exciting, amazing, and important book. It’s one of those world-changing special books that rarely comes along. It celebrates freedom, education for all, and women’s rights while at the same time telling a horrendous story of oppression, fear, and violent savagery.
Malala is a Muslim girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan who became an activist for education for girls and was therefore targeted by the Taliban. When she was fifteen years old, she was riding a school vehicle home with some other students when she was shot in the head. After surgery and intensive care in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, and England, Malala recovered, and at seventeen won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote education for all the world’s children.
The book describes her early life in Swat Valley. Although it was a simple life, Swat was a beautiful place, and she was happy with her family, school, and schoolmates. Her father became a school owner and a strong advocate for education.
Swat Valley truly is, or was, a paradise. I traveled through Pakistan several times in the seventies, from Kabul, Afghanistan, over the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, then to Rawalpindi, Lahore, and on to India. On another journey I passed from Iran to southern Pakistan, across the desert to Quetta, and on up to Islamabad and Lahore. I came close to Swat Valley, and heard from others how idyllic it was, but never had a chance to visit. Hearing Malala’s description of it, I regret the lost opportunity.
In the early years, when Malala was a young child, her family struggled financially but they were happy. Then the Taliban invaded the valley, and things changed. The Pakistan army made sporadic attempts to drive them out but were unsuccessful. Among the Taliban’s strict rules was a ban on education or any other type of freedom for girls and women. They began to bomb schools and murder people who spoke out against them. Malala and her father feared for their lives, but at the same time didn’t want to leave Swat Valley, which was their beloved homeland. As the situation worsened, Malala became more outspoken and won numerous local and national awards for her stand on education. At the same time, the Taliban became more and more threatening.
The book opens with a prologue that describes the shooting, and then backtracks to Malala’s early life in the valley. As you read, you know with dread inevitability what’s coming. It’s heartrending to learn of the great love that the family has for their homeland and then read about how that land is turned into a fear-ridden wasteland by terrorists. The last part of the book describes Malala’s treatment after she is shot. The bullet had entered her face near her left eye and lodged in her shoulder. She was in a coma for a week, and when she awakened she had been transported to England. She had to undergo numerous surgeries to remove pressure from her brain, restore the facial nerves on the left side of her face, and restore hearing in her left ear. Through it all she continued to thank God for the miracle of life and maintained her resolve to fight for education for all.
Sometimes you don’t appreciate what comes easily to you until you hear about someone else who has had to fight for it. Reading this book makes you appreciate what a precious gift education is, and how vital it is that everyone has access to it. As I said: it’s a wonderful book, and I hope that many more people around the world have the opportunity to read it.