Review: The Weight of Our Sky (Hanna Alkaf)

43121540.jpgGenre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Salaam Reads
Publication Date: 
February 5th 2019
Pansing Books
Page Count:

Blurb from Goodreads:

A music loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die.

On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.




Reading The Weight of Our Sky is just like returning home, to my roots. I have spent my entire life reading books which are foreign to me, delving into other people’s story that sometimes I find comfort and warmth in it.

I am very grateful that I am given a chance to read this homegrown masterpiece, a masterpiece that I can totally connect with. A gripping narrative that we, Malaysians are always reminded of, that I am ashamed of myself for not knowing about the significant and true history behind the  May 13 1969 tragedy.

The dark chapter of Malaysian history is told by a sixteen year old girl named Melati who finds joy in listening to Paul McCartney’s The Beatles. When she faces such life or death situation, she is forced to fight her inner demons that pushes her to the core.

The book is brutally honest and undeniably heavy to read, with such taboo issues discussed such as racism that leads to the tragedy. This book is so unapologetically Malaysian—I love all of the references that Hanna introduces to the readers, from the diverse people who consists of Malay, Chinese, Indians and Sikhs, the speeches and dialects, food that never fails to make me drool to the superstitious believes that people back then used to and still believed in.

“Allahu akbar!” they yell. “Allahu akbar!” And for a moment I am struck by how strange it is to proclaim the greatness of God, a phrase we say over and over again in prayer five time a day, while doing their best to destroy His creations.

What I love about this book that it does not only set during the riots, it is also a book about anxiety and OCD. The constant tapping rituals that the main character does continuously to please the djinn inside her is something very different from I have read before about OCD and at the same time, very sad. Due to the alternatives provided and stigmatization of mental health issues during that time, people diagnosed with mental illness are often forced to consult witch doctors to spiritually heal themselves. To see that Hanna writes this mental illness subject with such attention through Melati’s point of view touches my heart the most.

“Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung. It means where we plant our feet is where we must hold up the sky. We live and die by the rules of the land we live in. But this country belongs to all of us! We make our own sky, and we can hold it up—together.”

The Weight of Our Sky reminds us about a piece of the past that we should never forget and also a random act of kindness can result in great things.

Thank you Hanna for writing this masterpiece that we can call it home! 

Special thanks to Pansing Books for providing me this review copy in exchange of an honest review! 



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