Let Her Fly
A Father's Journey and the Fight for Equality
by Ziauddin Yousafzai
(co-author Louise Carpenter)
The sub-title of this memoir is ‘A Father’s Journey and the Fight for Equality’. It is the story of the father of Malala Yousafzai, who, as a schoolgirl, was shot in the head by the Taliban while on a bus, in retaliation for her activism in support of women’s education, defying an earlier ban imposed on the teaching of girls in schools by the Taliban in her native Swat valley in Pakistan. Malala was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where she made a remarkable recovery, and went on to become a world-famous icon and Nobel Laureate while still a schoolgirl.
The advance notice of the book having indicated that it was written by Ziauddin himself, it was disconcerting at first to find that it was in fact co-authored by local writer Louise Carpenter. At the end of the book, we are made aware in the acknowledgements that the book is essentially a collection of transcripts of conversations between Ziauddin and Ms Carpenter. This goes some way towards explaining the strongly verbal cadences which characterise the book, though American spellings remain more of a puzzle.
What is not in doubt however is that Ziauddin himself is a remarkable character. Born into a traditionalist patriarchal family in Pakistan, he quickly distinguished himself as a child despite suffering from an uncontrollable stammer. One day he was taken by his mother to a remote village up a mountain to visit an ancient blind saint in his mud hut, who his mother confidently predicted would cure his stammer. What followed is indelibly described: Ziauddin recalls the saint pulling a ball of hardened sugar from his pocket and proceeding to suck it. ‘I watched him suck on it for a couple of seconds, and then he cupped his hand under his hairy mouth and spat it out. I was horrified to see that he handed this wet slippery ball to my mother. She broke off a bit and gave it to me. I was revolted by the slimy fragment, despite the miracle it was supposed to contain.’ Despite this process being repeated every night, the stammer remained.
Notwithstanding his many disadvantages, Ziauddin succeeded in setting up his own school and insisted on providing for girls’ education, despite the Talibanisation of the Swat Valley. He himself received death threats, but it was only when the Taliban turned their attention on Malala that he became really frightened.
After the attempt on her life, Ziauddin and his wife and sons came to live in Birmingham with her. What shines through in this book is his total commitment and support for Malala; her cause is and always has been equally his. As Malala acknowledges in the foreword, Ziauddin is a remarkable man. ‘Everyone was equal to him, whether Muslim or Christian, fair or dark, poor or rich, man or woman. As a school principal, a social activist, an active social worker, he was caring, respectful and supportive to everyone. Everyone loved him. He was my idol.’
Review by Jonathan Stone, Sherborne Literary Society