In “The Weight of our Sky” Alkaf explores a mixture of internal and external foes. Melati’s OCD is her constant internal struggle that she is not currently able to overcome, and the race riots are a very real, very dangerous, unavoidable conflict happening all around her, so much so that anyone can be shot and killed for being the wrong race. Around Melati, there are weapons, fires, insults, and mobs. There is an inability to trust anyone, while at the same time, a desperate need for help. There are also good people, who truly want to help. Inside Melati’s head, there is a constant drone of doom that makes this story over-stimulating. I don’t say that in a negative way. The extent to which we experience every second of Melati’s thoughts and actions makes the story so much more real.
However, some people can be overwhelmed by so much mental and historical stimuli, for which Alkaf was mindful enough to include an Author’s Note at the beginning, warning readers about the contents of the story. I think Alkaf’s intention in writing such a warning is an intention that many of us need to respect and emulate. Her story is based on real events and a real mental illness. It’s not ridiculous to think that a reader could be negatively impacted by such a heavy story. Being kind to your fellow humans is never the wrong choice. Thank you for your warning, Hanna, and thank you for your story.
As I sat with this story, after I finished it, I was overcome by awe. It took me a while to figure out why I was in awe, other then a general sense that I’d just read a really well-crafted story. The reason I’m in awe is that Hanna Alkaf didn’t tell the story of a typical heroine. Melati Ahmad is the heroine of her own story, but she isn’t the heroine of any larger narrative or movement. I won’t spoil anything for you, but since this book is based on true events, and you can’t Google Melati Ahmad’s name and come up with anything significant…it’s safe to say that she didn’t single-handedly fight off a mob or achieve Malaysian peace, or anything like that. She’s sixteen. Melati is just a girl experiencing too much and handling it remarkably well. Sometimes just living with your own “Djinn” is challenging enough, but Melati lives through her Djinn and through some very violent times, and it’s difficult not to be impressed by her strength. It’s difficult not to be in awe of her authentic story.