Melati Ahmad has imagined her mother’s death countless times. Plagued by gruesome thoughts she believes are put into her head by a djinn, Melati has developed an intricate set of tapping rituals to tame the monster within and keep her mother safe.
But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.
With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.
Hi, everyone. I can proudly say that I know Hanna Alkaf, okay. She’s a home-grown talent who writes like a machine, has a sparkling wit and I am proud to call her a friend. I distinctly remember when I found out that Hanna sold her book to Simon & Schuster in 2017 and I was properly shocked, in a good way, of course!
Fast forward 18 months, I’ve read the masterpiece that is Hanna’s The Weight of Our Sky and if you haven’t, just know that it is a book that needs to be read.
TL;DR: it’s phenomenal and all kinds of amazing. It’s gripping, emotionally charged and so heartfelt. And get this, it’s so Malaysian lah, I love it!
As described by the author extraordinaire herself, The Weight of Our Sky is unapologetically Malaysian and I feel like that is the most apt way of describing Hanna Alkaf’s stunning debut. Set in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, the book follows the story of Melati, a seventeen-year-old, Beatles-loving girl who finds herself in the maddening crossfire of the May 1969 riots. Amid the racial tensions and battling the evil djinn inside of her, Melati has to face her fears and reunite with her mother, all the while discovering the harsh truths about the world around her.
It is no surprise that The Weight of Our Sky is one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, if not, ever. I’ve been waiting for a YA book to be set in Malaysia and lo and behold, Hanna Alkaf did it. She has paved the road for us and for that, we are eternally grateful for what you have done, kakak. It has only been a few minutes since I’ve finished reading The Weight of Our Sky and here I am, trying with Herculean effort, to write a coherent review and share my thoughts on why Hanna’s debut will be one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Side note: After reading The Weight of Our Sky, I am finding it extremely difficult to process the revelation of how our history textbooks failed to depict the horrors of the May 13 incident. I am even baffled by the fact that the history textbook authors shied away from giving us the full picture of what exactly happened on that fateful night, 50 years ago.
The Weight of Our Sky didn’t just impress me, but it also struck a chord with me that really made me ponder. Though the story was set 50 years ago, however, it is still very much important and relevant to us Malaysians today. Hanna Alkaf’s brutally honest depiction of one of our country’s most significant events is indeed an impactful read, even more so, if you’re a Malaysian reading it.
Call me biased, but personally, I loved The Weight of Our Sky. I have never felt prouder, reading about the little things that are so relatable to me and my fellow Malaysians in a book and for that, I really have to thank Hanna for showing the world the tiniest of nuances that make us Malaysian. From the way we unenthusiastically thank our teachers in that typical sing-song “te-ri-ma-ka-sih-cikgu” to our everyday colloquialisms, I admit, Hanna’s heartwarming and unapologetically Malaysian debut thawed my frosty heart.
Hand on heart, reading The Weight of Our Sky wasn’t easy as there were some extremely graphic descriptions of the aftermaths of the riots—as forewarned in the author’s note—and I was nearly blindsided by the how much the book affected me, but bookish panda friends of mine, for every time you are engulfed in darkness, you must always remember that there’s light in the end of every tunnel. It just reminds me of the stark horrors we face every day, which is why I understood the importance of Melati’s story in today’s political climate, especially when it’s a reflection of modern-day Malaysia.
Though there were some parts in the book that were heart-wrenching, we must also celebrate its triumphs and embrace this incredibly tender story as a whole. I felt like I fell into the story really easily as I found that Hanna’s prose shines through and reading her book was an unforgettable experience. It’s poetic yet honest and so very beautiful. As a linguistics major, can I just proclaim how much I enjoyed the Malaysianness of the language in The Weight of Our Sky? We have our famous lah-suffix which is pretty much the most versatile suffix in the world, the code switching between Malay and English and I really appreciate Hanna Alkaf including a peribahasa (idiom) in the book, which is also the inspiration behind the title of the book.
I could totally prattle on and on about why it is an absolute must that you pick up The Weight of Our Sky, but why put yourself through this torture? Go out and get yourself a copy because we always need more #OwnVoices books and The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf is a stellar example. Melati’s story is harrowing yet hopeful and it’s equally empowering and touching as the book explores the struggles she faces inside her head where she’s plagued by her OCD and mental illness as well as the chaos and turmoil happening around her. I do hope you can connect with Melati’s story as much as I did. If you have the time, please do check out the other blogs on this blog tour at the end of this post. A special shout-out to Vicky of Vicky Who Reads for organising this blog tour!
A LITTLE SOMETHING SPECIAL FROM YOUR MALAYSIAN BOY
When I signed up for this blog tour, I decided to do a little bit of a creative post for my blog post. I mean, it’s not like every day you get to participate in a blog tour to celebrate the release of a book set in Malaysia, with authentic Malaysian representation, by a Malaysian author.
Therefore, for my creative post, I have decided to feature something Malaysian and as someone who studied languages, what better way to showcase the beauty of the Malay language than to share my favourite Malay proverbs that are inspired by Melati’s story in The Weight of Our Sky?
As Hanna Alkaf’s drew inspiration from her being Malaysian, reading Melati’s story and to be able to endure what she had to, was something that I could relate to very much, being Malaysian, where we are a melting pot of cultures and different ethnicity, I chose the following Malay proverbs based on the theme of unity, which I found were very fitting, especially since The Weight of Our Sky is somewhat a reflection of what it means to come from different walks of life, united in a multiracial country.
Disclaimer: my translation skills are somewhat below-par so I will try my best. Please bear with me.
Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing
This Malay proverb doesn’t really sound the same when it’s translated but it means that regardless of the weight we carry or hold, as long as we are united, it’s something that is bore equally. All in all, this proverb is about teamwork and being united in achieving something.
Bersatu teguh, bercerai roboh
This is an easy one because it’s very similar to a saying in English. Think of this as the Malay version of “united we stand, divided we fall”. I chose this proverb because there’s a line in the book which reminded me so much of this proverb. Here’s a clue: it’s said by the recipient of Auntie of the Year Award, the darling Auntie Bee.
Bukit sama didaki, lurah sama dituruni
If I had to translate the proverb directly, it would be “we climb the same mountain and descend on the same groove”. Sadly, I am not doing the Malay language justice, since I feel like I am butchering these proverbs.
Regardless of my translating prowess or lack of, the meaning of the proverb is something along the lines of “no matter the predicament, be it hardships or times for celebration, we undergo them together” or simply put “through thick or thin”.
MEET HANNA ALKAF, AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE (AND FRIEND)
Hanna Alkaf graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and spent over ten years writing everything from B2B marketing emails to investigative feature articles, from non-profit press releases to corporate brochures. She worked in Chicago as an online copywriter for several years upon graduation before coming home. She’s been a senior writer at Marie Claire Malaysia, the communications manager of education non-profit Teach For Malaysia, and a freelance journalist. Her articles have appeared in the Malaysian iterations of Marie Claire, Shape, and Esquire, as well as a host of other media both print and online.
Hanna now spends her time making it up as she goes along, both as an author of fiction and as a mom. THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY is her first novel. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family.
The prize: a copy of The Weight of Our Sky & a Kampung House coloring book! (gorgeous line drawings of wooden kampung houses that would have been common in 1969–more info here!)
Jessica @ Endless Chapters (Review + Favourite Quotes)
Lily @ Sprinkles of Dreams (Review + Favourite Quotes)
Zoë @ If the Book Will Be Too Difficult (Interview)
As Told by Zaheerah (Review + Playlist)
Vinny @ Artsy Draft (Review + Aesthetic)
Erika @ The Nocturnal Fey (Review + Favourite Quotes)
May @ Forever and Everly (Review + Aesthetic)
CW @ The Quiet Pond (Review + Creative Interview)
Bookevin (Review + Creative Post)