What book are you reading right now?
I have been reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, which is on the school curriculum. It really reflects the situation of the 1930s America. I was fascinated to learn how women were treated at the time, and what life was like for poor itinerant workers.
Books can capture injustices in a way that stays with you and makes you want to do something about them. That is why they are so powerful.
What’s the last 'truly great' book you read?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I like it because it is hopeful and inspiring. It tells the story of a boy who embarks on a journey to find a treasure, but as he goes along, he learns from every part of his journey and every person he meets. In the end, he finds his treasure in a very interesting place. His story tells you that you should believe in yourself and continue your journey.
Who are your favorite contemporary writers?
Deborah Ellis, author of Parvana’s Journey, and Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner. Both tell stories about young characters in difficult circumstances. Both have to make hard choices and find strength to carry on. These books accurately depict war-torn regions.
I like writers who can show me worlds I know nothing about, but my favourites are those who create characters or worlds which feel realistic and familiar to me, or who can make me feel inspired.
I discovered Deborah Ellis’s books in the school library after my head teacher encouraged me to go beyond the school curriculum and look for books I might enjoy. This wasn’t long after I arrived in Britain, and I was missing my friends terribly. Reading about Afghanistan made me feel like being back at home. This is the power of books; they can take you to places that are beyond reach.
Is there a book you wish all girls would read, and one all students would read?
All girls: The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. The book tells the story of a young girl who takes on the challenge of saving her family. I think it is important for girls everywhere to learn how women are treated in some societies. In the book, even though Parvana is treated as lesser than boys and men, she believes in herself to fight against hunger, fear and war. Girls like her are an inspiration. The Breadwinner reminds us how courageous and strong women are around the world.
All students should read The Kite Runner. It shows you should not judge other people by external things. And, it shows loyalty and friendship.
Any particular book that helped you get through your recovery after the attack on you by the Taliban?
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first book I read in the hospital. I had been having headaches and could not read or focus properly for a while. It is a lovely book, given to me by Gordon Brown. He sent me 25 books, of which this is my favorite.
Which books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I read it during a period when life in Swat was very hard. I distracted myself from the fear and terrorism by thinking about things like how the universe began and whether time travel is possible. I enjoy reading science non-fiction. I am a very curious person. I always want to know the reason behind everything–big or small.
Your childhood memories of books and reading.
One of the first books I read is called Meena about a girl who stood up for women’s rights and education in Afghanistan. I also read a biography about Martin Luther King Jr, written for children. But I didn’t read a lot of books when I was young. In our country, many children don’t attend school or learn how to read. Those who do, usually read only textbooks.
Many people couldn’t afford books. Most books were secondhand. In Pakistan, even schools own very few books. I was lucky to have a father who valued education and thought it was important that I knew how to read. I read eight or nine books in Swat, and I was considered to be a bookish girl!
One of the most memorable moments in my life was when I was asked to open the Library of Birmingham, Europe’s largest new library. I had never seen so many books and all of them freely available to members of the public. If only children in Pakistan had such easy access to books!