Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
Malala Yousafzai is on a crucial, well publicized and lauded mission to educate children. I expected "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban" (2013) would be An Alarming Book with lots of Depressing Statistics that would make me feel Somewhat Superior in a Privileged Western Way, but Inspired to Help. What I didn't expect was that I would gain respect for a very different culture and enjoy a fascinating, but tragic story.
The inhabitants of the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan often use rope-pulley bridges to cross dangerous raging rivers and deep chasms quickly. "I Am Malala" is a fast ride across what has been, for me, an uncrossable gulf.
Pashtuns have lived in the stunningly beautiful Swat Valley for more than 2300 years. Malala is a proud member of the Pashtun tribe, who are fierce fighters, culturally bound to welcome guests, and have traditions of marriage handed down for centuries. When Malala was born in Mingora, her father Ziauddin, was delighted - although tribal custom means only the birth of a boy is celebrated. Ziauddin was determined to give Malala and the other girls in Swat an education.
Swat is almost entirely conservative, traditional Muslims. Men and women are kept separated after puberty, people pray five times a day, and work outside the home is not encouraged for women. That doesn't mean that the Koran says that women shouldn't be educated - in fact, it says the exact opposite. (And let's not forget that jobs weren't encouraged for women in the Western World until 60 or so years ago.)
After 9/11, the Taliban arrived in Swat and took effective control of the area from an impotent and absentee Pakistani government. In their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran, there is no dancing, no television, no song, and women are to be illiterate. When I read this book, I realized that the Taliban is to Islam what Westboro Baptist Church is to Christians - really out there, aching for jihad or crusade, and not actually representative of either religion.
Malala learned to love learning, and to love school - especially when the Taliban took it from her. She became the voice of girls who wanted to learn by blogging, and then by appearing as an education advocate on television. She was prominently featured by the New York Times in a documentary "Class Dismissed" (2009). I remember that well - it was the first NY Times documentary I watched.
Malala and her family never thought, as a child, that she was in danger. "Who would shoot a child?" everyone said. They underestimated the desperation of fundamentalists who find their beliefs - and therefore, their power - challenged. The Taliban shot her in the head on October 9, 2012. On October 9, 2013, she answered the question she'd been asked right before the assassination attempt: "Who is Malala Yousafzai?" with this book.
I will leave the political analysis and sociological critique to other reviewers who have handled that so adeptly already. To me, this is a really good book. I'm sure Christina Lamb, the co-author, contributed greatly to that. Malala has been attending school and has had multiple surgeries in the last year, and she could not have had the time to do everything.
I am sure this book will end up on school reading lists, alongside "The Diary of a Young Girl" (Anne Frank, 1947, posthumous). Teachers, please don't mar a wonderful story by making your students find only 'One True Meaning.' For Marie Arana, writing a reverent review of "I Am Malala" for the Washington Post on October 11, 2013, this book meant something more global and less personal. We both found profound meaning in this book - but the meanings, while complementary, were different.
Finally, this book worked better for me as an Audible than in text. Mentally, reading excerpts, I tripped over Pashto and Urdu pronunciations - which would have distracted me from the book. Archie Panjabi sounds young, and her narrative as a 16 year old works.
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On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President. Three days later, I read a nice piece in the Washington Post by Wil Haygood. "A Butler Well Served by this Election" was the too brief story of Eugene Allen, a Black butler who served eight presidents, retiring during the Reagan administration. Later, watching the inaugural on television, the camera panned to Allen, and a commentator mentioned he was there as a special guest of the President's. Allen must have had interesting stories, but he was discrete and I thought they had died with him in 2010.
I was thrilled to find "The Butler: A Witness to History" (2013) at the top of the Audible crawl. "Wow," I thought. "A story I always wanted to hear more of, and one of the narrators is Forest Whitaker!" I like his voice so much I'd listen to him reading a refrigerator repair manual. It was the fastest Audible purchase I've made, and I don't regret it.
I thought I would be listening to a lengthier biography of Allen, or perhaps a novelization of the movie, but "The Butler" book is really a companion to the movie. According to this book, the movie "The Butler" is partially fictionalized, and a dramatic conflict was created between Allen and a radicalized son. This book first discusses how Haygood came up with the original story idea, and his lovely interviews with Allen and his wife, Helene. The book discusses Allen's relationships with the presidents he served, but briefly -it's a short book. It also discusses the tragedy Allen honored to vote for Obama, and then his physical struggle to attend the inauguration.
There's also a section on the difficulty bringing "The Butler" to the screen. Oprah Winfrey discusses the history of Blacks in film, as actors, directors and producers. I am familiar with all of the actors she mentioned, but the directors in the 1920's and 30's were new to me.
I'm giving the book a story rating of "3" because, as an Audible, it wandered. I wasn't always sure what point was being raised.
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When my son was in third grade, the class project was either George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. My son chose Lincoln, and we read the Emancipation Proclamation together. He was surprised that the January 1, 1863 Executive Order didn't actually free all slaves - it only freed those in Confederate states and territories. Almost a million slaves in the border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) were still in bondage.
At the same age, I had imagined that Lincoln had freed the slaves all at once; and that on that very Happy New Year's Day, slaves left the kitchens and fields and went to live on 40 acres given to them by the government, plowing fields with a mule they received on the same day; and that they all voted in the next election. In my eight year old imagination, women voted too. I didn't learn for another year that women weren't guaranteed the right to vote until the 1920.
I explained, as we rolled newspapers into logs, stuck them onto a shoe box, and painted them with brown tempura paint to make a one room log cabin, that Lincoln did not want to have the border states secede. My son, at 8, was satisfied with the explanation. I wanted to learn more, though, and I am really glad that I found Eric Foner's "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" (2010) and took the time to listen.
Lincoln described himself as always antislavery, but until nearly the end of his life, he did not believe Blacks and Whites were equal. However, he was an ardent supporter of the constitution, and decided that the phrase in the preamble that "all men are created equal" did not mean all men were the same (people have different abilities, look different, and so on), but rather, all men were equal because all were given the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Slavery denied those rights.
Foner thoroughly discusses the federal and state laws on slavery, and how Lincoln strategized to use those laws and his presidential power to achieve total abolition of slavery, posthumously, when the 13th Amendment was adopted 8 months after his assassination. Lincoln's political and legal strategy began as a gradual, compensated freeing of slaves. The federal government freed slaves in the District of Columbia in 1862, paying owners about $400 a slave. Public opinion on slavery changed so rapidly by the end of the Civil War in 1865, the vast majority of the Union supported abolition; and owners were not compensated when it happened. Lincoln also addressed other concerns, including the important issue of what to do with the freed people. He initially supported deportation to Liberia or South America, but abandoned that position because Lincoln's understanding of Blacks grew to encompass totally equality.
I can't help but wonder what would have happened if he had lived through his second term - or if the Republican Party had selected a competent and moral Vice President instead of Andrew Johnson. Instead, Johnson was the first president to be impeached.
As to the 40 acres and a mule, it wasn't a myth - but the slaves entitled to that were freed from the Indian Nations.
This is the third Audible book on Lincoln I've listened to. The first was Delores Kearns Goodwins' "Team of Rivals" (2005) followed by Joshua Wolf Shenk's "Lincoln's Melancholy" (2005). Both are quite good, and they do address the issue of slavery - but not in the legal and cultural context that "The Fiery Trial" does. This book is a fresh study of Lincoln, not a compilation of old research.
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