I Am Malala

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I Am Malala Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Malala Yousafzai
 Malala Yousafzai was born in the town of Mingora, Pakistan to a poor but prominent Muslim family, headed by Ziauddin Yousafzai. Growing up, Ziauddin encouraged Malala to study literature and rhetoric, and to express herself freely. From an early age, Malala was conscious of the inferior position of women in her society: she was especially conscious of the difference between her mother, Tor Pekai, a woman with no formal education, and her father, a man with considerable training in writing, poetry, and oration. At the age of 11, Malala began writing a diary for a BBC blog, thanks to contacts her father had established. She also made an appearance in a New York Times documentary on life in Pakistan under the Taliban. Following these two projects, Malala became increasingly active in the media, in spite of her young age. She gave interviews in which she criticized the rise of the violent religious extremist group, the Taliban, in her country. In the fall of 2012, Malala was shot by a Taliban soldier. She was treated in Pakistani military hospitals, and afterwards, thanks to her international fame, taken to superior medical facilities in Birmingham, England. Malala made a full recovery from her bullet wounds, and continued to actively campaign for women’s rights and education. In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in its 114-year history.
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Historical Context of I Am Malala
 I Am Malala alludes to a great number of events in Pakistani history, beginning with the story of the country’s founding in 1947. During the 1920s and 30s, the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi led a nonviolent resistance against the British Empire, which, at the time, controlled the area that would eventually become India and Pakistan. In the 1940s, following the end of World War II, the British Empire abandoned its imperial territories in Asia. While Gandhi had proposed a one-state successor to British rule, India and Pakistan ultimately became two separate countries, with Pakistan home to a larger percentage of Muslims and India home to a larger number of Hindus. In the 1950s and 60s, the supposed “Golden Age” of the country, Pakistan’s economy grew rapidly. This rapid growth came to an abrupt end in the 1980s, when the country came under the control of General Zia, a violent dictator who oversaw a general radicalization of the Pakistani population. Zia skillfully made an alliance with the United States by promising to aid the U.S. in its conflicts with the Soviet Union. As a result, Pakistan began to receive large amounts of foreign aid and military training from the United States (which at this point supported radical Islam in its war against the "godless" USSR). It was during Zia’s reign that Osama Bin Laden traveled to Pakistan to help in its fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In 2001, at the start of the American-led "War on Terror," a new leader came into power in Pakistan: General Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf promised to aid the United States in its struggle to fight radical Islamists such as Osama Bin Laden. Nevertheless, Pakistan grew increasingly radical during the early 2000s. A large percentage of its citizens believed that the United States was a grave threat to the world, that the Jews were responsible for most of the world’s economic exploitation, and that radical Islam—a doctrine that limited women’s right to education and free speech—was the only solution to the world’s problems. The Taliban rose to prominence in the country, and used its military force to attack the aspects of Pakistani society that it judged to be perversions of Islam. Suicide bombers, acting on behalf of the Taliban, blew up American buildings and schools for women. The Taliban, it is widely believed, conspired to murder Benazir Bhutto, a female politician who had promised to promote women’s rights (including the right to a free education) in Pakistan.
Other Books Related to I Am Malala
 Because I Am Malala is a memoir, a work of nonfiction, it’s difficult and not entirely appropriate to compare it to works of literature. Nevertheless, the book is clearly related to other memoirs about periods of crisis. One such memoir is The Diary of Anne Frank, first published in 1947. In this tremendously moving work, Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl living in the Netherlands in the early 1940s, describes her family’s struggle to hide from the Nazis, who were then in the process of rounding up all Jews and sending them to concentration camps to be murdered. Though Anne Frank was only 12 when she began writing her diary, she’s remarkably insightful about the cruelty taking place around her. In spite of the atrocities she witnesses, Anne remains optimistic, and maintains her faith in the innate goodness of all human beings. One sees the same combination of innocence, insightfulness, and unshakeable optimism in Malala—indeed, when I Am Malala was published, many critics compared it to The Diary of Anne Frank.
Key Facts about I Am Malala
  • Full Title: I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
  • Where Written: Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • When Published: October 2013
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Non-fiction, Political Memoir
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: Pakistan (various cities), United Kingdom (Birmingham)
  • Climax: Malala is shot
  • Antagonist: the Taliban / sexism / violent extremism
  • Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for I Am Malala

Pop culture, anyone?: Since her rise to global fame in the early 2010s, Malala Yousafzai has made numerous appearances in American TV shows. In the summer of 2015, she was a guest on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart—on the program, Stewart playfully asked Malala if he could adopt her. Malala was even alluded to on an episode of the Netflix show Bojack Horseman when a character referred to her as “that Pakistani girl who keeps winning Nobel Prizes.”

To be great is to be misunderstood: Although I Am Malala has garnered praise from readers and critics around the world, it hasn’t been a success everywhere. Shortly after the book was published, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, an influential group in the country, announced that the book would be banned in the 150,000 schools that were members of the Federation for “disrespecting Islam.” Malala, a devout Muslim, was reportedly horrified.