“Thank God I’m not dead,” recalled the survivor of a Taliban shooting.
LONDON – A year ago, Malala Yousafzai was a 15-year-old schoolgirl in northwest Pakistan, thinking about calculus and chemistry, Justin Bieber songs and “Twilight” movies.
Today she’s the world-famous survivor of a Taliban assassination attempt, an activist for girls’ education — and a contender to win the Nobel Peace Prize this week.
It’s easy to forget she is still a teenager and now a long way from home. The memoir “I Am Malala” goes some way toward redressing that balance. Published around the world on Tuesday, the book reveals a girl who worries about her clothes and her hair, but also has an iron determination that comes from experience beyond her 16 years.
The book, written with the British journalist Christina Lamb, recounts Malala’s life before and after the moment on Oct. 9, 2012, when a gunman boarded a school bus full of girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and asked “Who is Malala?” Then he shot her in the head.
The shooting is described briefly but vividly in the book.
“The air smelt of diesel, bread and kebab mixed with the stink from the stream where people still dumped their rubbish,” Malala remembers. One of her friends tells her later that the gunman’s hand shook as he fired.
Around that pivotal event, the book weaves Malala’s story into the broader tale of her home region of Swat, a remote, mountainous region near the Afghan border.
Into this valley, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, came the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban. The book describes their arrival — preaching against girls’ education, shutting down DVD sellers and displaying the bodies of people they’ve executed. They blew up the region’s ancient Buddha statues, and then they began blowing up schools. “They destroyed everything old and brought nothing new,” Malala writes.
She considers herself a believing Muslim and a proud member of the Pashtun ethnic group, but recounts how from an early age she questioned her culture’s attitude toward women.
Her father felt differently. The book recounts her debt to Ziauddin Yousafzai, who founded the school Malala attended and kept it open to girls in the face of pressure and threats. He passed on to his daughter a hunger for knowledge and a questioning spirit.
At 11, she began giving TV interviews in Pakistan about girls’ education. In 2009, she started writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service under a pseudonym. She soon became well known within Pakistan — and therefore a potential Taliban target. But, she thought: “Even the Taliban don’t kill children.”
The final part of the book describes Malala’s life from when she regained consciousness in a British hospital, where she had been flown for specialist treatment, with the thought: “Thank God I’m not dead.”
Malala lives with her family in a house behind a big gate in the city of Birmingham, England. It reminds her a bit of being under house arrest.
She remains determined to return to Pakistan one day and enter politics. And she says the Taliban’s attempt to silence her has backfired spectacularly. “I think they might be repenting why they shot Malala,” she told the BBC in a recent interview.