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STAFF PICK: THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY

STAFF PICK DECEMBER 2019


Name: Puan Zarina Abu Bakar
Position: General Manager
Book: The Weight of Our Sky
Author: Hanna Alkaf
Year: 2019


Synopsis:


A music loving teen with OCD, Melati Ahmad, 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.


Comments:


It was very brave of the author, Hanna Alkaf, to select this particular dark episode in our nation’s history for her debut Young Adult novel. I appreciated that she did not whitewash the event – the horrifying consequences of the 13th May 1969 riots became part of the narrative without smothering the story in too many historical facts – nor attempted to push blame to any particular party. Through the experience of Melati Ahmad, the reader is transported to 1969 Kuala Lumpur, at the onset of the violence that tore the city apart. Despite the turbulent setting, there is also hope, new friendships, and cooperation, as Melati searches desperately for her mother.


This is a well-written novel that is uniquely and recognisably Malaysian. To a certain extent, the use of fiction allows the author to probe the past through a more questioning and multi-faceted lens, without the obligation of having to provide answers. A highly recommended read.


Excerpt:


“Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.


Petaling Street is deserted.


Where the bustling, heaving, vibrant crowd was mere hours before, there is silence. The shops are shuttered, the vendors have disappeared, leaving only the usual marketplace debris behind them – a crumpled paper bag, still bearing traces of its greasy occupants; there, a small pile of sugarcane husks, squeezed dry of their sweet juice. Where the fortune-teller was, a handful white cards lie scattered on the grubby pavement: remnants of other people’s fortunes. Twilight bathes everything in a curious, eerie light, making it look as if I’ve stepped into another realm.


…A lone trishaw driver cycles by, panting hard, his legs pumping like pistons, his pointed hat knocked askew.


“Uncle, Uncle,” I call after him. “Where is everyone? What’s going on?”


He pauses and looks back, taking in my turquoise school pinafore, the half-filled cone of kuaci still in my hand. “Go home, girl,” he says. “Go home. It’s not safe here.”


Safe. I feel it then: the familiar tightening in my throat; the cold sweat trickling down my forehead and forging trails down my neck. “Why, Uncle? What’s happening?”


He pauses. “They’re killing one another,” he says finally. “The Malays and the Chinese are killing one another.”


Then he looks away and cycles off, as hard and as fast as he can, until he turns the corner and disappears altogether. The crumpled paper cone drops from my hand, and white kuaci shells scatter on the sidewalk.”


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The Weight of Our Sky is available only for reading at the Perdana Library. If you are interested in reading the book, visit our library here at Putrajaya.

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