I don’t believe in reincarnation. But when I read I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, I couldn’t help but think of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, which I had read as a teenager. For some reason, the image of Anne kept surfacing in the pages of Malala’s autobiography. It seemed as if the late German child-hero was reborn in the province of northern Pakistan to become a beacon of hope for people in dismay.
Separated by decades, Anne was raised in the oppressing regime of the Nazis, while Malala was born during the ascent of the Taliban. In particularly dark times, both girls had brought people together through their inspiring words that became the symbol of hope and transformation. Anne did this posthumously, while Malala is doing it today by becoming the strength and voice of thousands of young women around the world. For her work, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014–incidentally, the same year as she received the Anne Frank Courage Award.
I am Malala is the story of a simple yet courageous girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who was shot by the Taliban in broad daylight when she was 15. It is also the story of her brave father Ziauddin Yousafzai, who fought not only for his daughter’s rights, but also those of many other girls. The autobiography of Malala Yusafzai sheds light on a father’s unshakable belief that education is a fundamental right of every individual, irrespective of their gender.
The memoir begins with the Taliban’s ascent to power in Swat, when Malala was still in preschool. The first few chapters narrate a teenage Malala’s struggle to understand the radical laws enforced by the Taliban, especially for women. Women not being allowed to step out without a male companion and girls having to stay at home instead of going to school are some of the everyday challenges narrated in the book. The reader can easily feel the anxiousness behind Malala’s words as she describes her fear for her father’s life and for having to discontinue her education.
As the story progresses, Malala draws her strength and solace from her father’s courage and kindness, and from the world of books. She begins to demonstrate tremendous strength in the face of harsh adversity, just like Malalai of Maiwand, the woman warrior Malala was named after. By the time the story reaches its conclusion, Malala becomes the inspiration of millions of people around the world. They walk with her in solidarity.
The instances narrated in the book give out an important life-lesson, one that Malala says she learnt from L Frank Baum’s children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: “If you really want to do something, you can, even with hurdles along your way.”
For me, Malala’s story bears resemblance to Anne’s life and struggle. The similarities between the two teenagers are uncanny–both being passionate, compassionate, kind, and helpful. The way I see it, I am Malala is not just Malala’s autobiography, but also the story of Anne Frank, and in fact, every girl who has ever dreamt of a peaceful and equal world.