In her memoir, ‘With All My Might,’ Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij tells her story about overcoming adversity to find her ‘true’ self. She chronicles her life from a child to her forties showing how she learned to fit into a world where she once felt she did not belong. Diversity, adversity, racism, and conformity are central themes in her memoir. She focuses on how these issues affected her life and how she overcame them. Her story is not just a journey of overcoming adversity but a journey of self-discovery.
Gabriella tells her story in the form of an interview conducted by a Dutch journalist. The interview takes place in the midst of the Olympics being held in Vancouver, Canada where Gabriella is a volunteer. This setting is symbolic of what she finally achieves in life. When she was three years old, Gabriella was taken from an orphanage in Rawalpindi, a small city in the North of what was Western Pakistan. The Dutch family that adopted her was Catholic, so right from the beginning she had not been able to learn about her Muslim roots. Her story is a chronicle of her family, personal relationships, and her struggles to connect. For instance, she had an intimidating mother of whom Gabriella believed she always failed to please. Readers will follow how her parents divorce affected her and what she learned about them. For example, “she realized her mother had feelings, that she was a human being.”
Gabriella also chronicles her experience being bullied as a child due to racism and how that racism affected her as an adult which nearly caused her to permanently lose custody of her child – the one solid foundation in her life. Readers will learn how her personal relationships were a struggle due to events in her childhood that left her with deep emotional scars. As well, readers will gain insight into how her adversities affected her decisions and the conflicts she endured both externally and internally.
“With All My Might” is a story of emerging from isolation as she had no solid family foundation which affected her deeply. Gabriella notes, “Her parents were incapable of giving love or security.” Readers will see the toll it took on her as her pain and sense of aloneness was so great it had caused her to attempt suicide. Gabriella’s memoir can be considered a story of survival. A little orphan girl in Pakistan undertakes a journey filled with great adversity and painful moments that would affect the strongest of people. Gabriella imparts important life lessons we could all learn. A key message of the book – ‘diversity does not have to be adversity.’ We all need to be proud of who we are and discover out true selves.
“With All My Might” provides a candid look into the trials and tribulation of a woman caught in many different worlds. It imparts the message that we are all connected and we have to find the ties that bind us and the only way to do that is to first find our true selves that includes learning to love ourselves for who we are.
I highly recommend ‘All My Might’ because it is such a personal story and the author is very honest in her account of her life. It is also a good story for those interested in adopting children who are not of their own ethnic or religious background because it shows how important it is to make sure children maintain a connection with their heritage as it is a part of who they are.
Tracy Roberts, Write Field Services