Laughing in the face of adversity

By Heath Chamerski | 01 Jun 16

Yassmin’s Story | Yassmin Abdel-Magied | Vintage Books

“I have the privilege and blessing of taking on multiple identities. Yes, I am a mechanical engineer; I am also a practising Muslim woman (Alhamdulillah), a founder of a youth-led organisation, a former race car team principal, a Sudanese-born member of the Arab-African diaspora, a Queenslander, a boxer, a doer, and hopefully, also a thinker who is able to add value, to be useful.”

It is an absolute delight to read about the multiple identities of the inspirational Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a strong, proud Australian who refuses to be stereotyped or let her gender define her. There’s a refreshing humbleness and self-effacing air about the 24-year-old’s upbeat, effortlessly inspiring memoir, which details her journey from Sudan to Queensland and more recently the oil rigs of Western Australia. It is an atypical but at the same time also familiar Aussie story that extols the virtues of hard work, tolerance and perseverance.

Abdel-Magied introduces her memoir by reminiscing about her family’s early years in Australia, having resettled in Queensland after fleeing Sudan. While her family’s time living in the Sunshine State has proven to be quite a harmonious one, Abdel-Magied did encounter some difficulties fitting in at school, especially after making the choice to wear a hijab in her pre-teen years. With a loving family and a strong connection to her birth country, helped by the family’s frequent visits back home, Abdel-Magied explains how she had the best of both worlds growing up – experiencing the best of Sudanese and Australian customs and traditions.

Always keen to go her own way no matter what the challenges, Abdel-Magied’s interests in school gravitated towards mechanical engineering, a field that that very few females pursue. Abdel-Magied is also a self-proclaimed ‘rev-head’ and has been obsessed with Formula 1 from a young age. A compelling chapter within the book details her journey to the Monaco Grand Prix as a motorsport journalist, living out a lifelong dream to attend and cover perhaps the most famous Grand Prix of them all.

Abdel-Magied often remarks in the book how she is able to disarm even her most staunchest critic, and that quality extends to her writing style, which is warm and makes the reader feel instantly engaged.

In addition to her studies, Abdel-Magied took the initiative to create the group Youth Without Borders, an organisation dedicated to running various youth-led initiatives to make a positive change in her community. While Abdel-Magied is the most humble of authors, playing down her achievements, she continues to make a great impact on the world, having given an acclaimed TEDx talk and also being named Young Queenslander of the Year in 2015.

This is a hard memoir to put down. Abdel-Magied’s winning personality and ability to laugh in the face of adversity help create a truly impressive piece of writing. Her writing style and enthusiasm would win over even the most cynical of souls. This is a book accessible to all readers, with a casual, conversational tone. Lots of colloquialisms help give us a good idea of Abdel-Magied’s personality.

Abdel-Magied often remarks in the book how she is able to disarm even her most staunchest critic, and that quality extends to her writing style, which is warm and makes the reader feel instantly engaged. Short, sharp linear chapters that take us from Abdel-Magied’s early years right up to her current activism work providing a voice for disenfranchised youth.

Abdel-Magied has packed so much into her relatively few years. Reading this memoir, I got the impression that her journey to making a difference in the world is just starting and that her greatest achievements are still ahead of her.

Yassmin’s Story is a winsome, winning piece of work in which Abdel-Magied’s passion for life leaps off every page. The intent of Yassmin’s Story seems to be to inspire the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators, and its one of the more motivational memoirs in recent memory.

The only downside is that after reaching the end, you get the feeling that you’ve only read the first chapter of what will be an extraordinary life.

Yassmin’s Story is now available from Vintage Books.