(Audio)Book Talk: I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai, read by Archie Panjabi

Malala Yousafzai, with Christina Lamb
Audiobook read by Archie Panjabi
Back Bay Books (2015), trade paper (ISBN 0316322423 / 9780316322423)
Nonfiction: autobiography, 368 pages
Source: purchased audiobook (Hachette Audio, 2013, ISBN 9781478979791)

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book discussion I AM MALALA Malala Yousafzai audiobook Nonfiction November

I spent a week last month reading the autobiography of a sixteen-year-old. The idea of a sixteen-year-old publishing an autobiography at all, let alone an acclaimed worldwide bestselling one, is kind of preposterous on the face of it, but at sixteen, Malala Yousafzai had already been through more life experience than most people three times her age. When the ladies of Nonfiction November decided to wrap up the month with a read-along of I Am Malala, I decided to join them. I’ll be responding to the official discussion questions proposed by Katie at Doing Dewey rather than using my usual review format.

1. What did you think of the tone and style in which I Am Malala was written?
Kim’s post for the Malala read-along offered some interesting perspectives on the writing, with a link to an article by Christina Lamb, the journalist hired to write the book with Malala. Lamb is credited as co-author, and so I wouldn’t consider her contributions as ghostwriting per se–my understanding is that a “ghost”writer goes unnamed–but I’m not sure the book would have as much breadth and context without her involvement. The book’s prologue is Malala’s own speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and I thought most of the book closely aligned with it in voice. That voice is young, but thoughtful, articulate, and passionate.

2. What did you think of the political commentary in the book?
The political commentary surprised me a bit in some places, mostly in references to Pakistani history and the friction between the country’s establishment and the still-thriving tribal culture in the mountains bordering Afghanistan. This was an aspect of the book that I thought may have been brought out more by Malala’s co-author–that is. I don’t think the opinions expressed are Lamb’s, but I think she may have influenced their inclusion in order to give the events of the book more framing.

3. Did anything particularly surprise you about Malala’s daily life or culture?
I’ve read in other places about the continuing influence of traditional tribal culture over concerns of modern statehood in parts of the Middle East, and it fascinated me to hear that described–and not necessarily criticized–by someone living under that influence. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the descriptions of life under the Taliban, but I was certainly distressed by them at times. While the specific ideologies of fundamentalists may differ around the world, the ways they carry them out, particularly when it comes to imposing restrictions on the lives of women, are depressingly similar.

4. Do you think you would act similarly to Malala in her situation? If you were her parents, would you let her continue to be an activist despite possible danger?
I can imagine sharing Malala’s feelings, but I can’t see myself acting on them unless it were privately or subversively. I don’t have the courage to live those convictions the way she has, and I think her parents are at least as brave as she is.

5. What did you think of the book overall?
The book, as a book, is fine, and I think the audiobook was enhanced by the reading of actress Archie Panjabi. The story it tells is an important and inspiring one, and I hope it will continue to be told in future volumes. Despite her youth, Malala is already a true hero, but her work is far from done yet.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

Opening lines of the Prologue:

“I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.”

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  1. I read the book in print and thought the book focused too much on Malala’s dad.

  2. Like you, I enjoyed Kim’s post and agreed that the ghost author was important. I didn’t love that, also like you, I guessed that the content was influenced by her ghost author, but perhaps that was necessary given Malala’s age and the lack of knowledge some of her audience (me) has of the history of Pakistan 🙂