Rummanah Aasi
Description: Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, 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.

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.

Review: The Weight of Our Sky is an intense historical fiction novel set during the May 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an event that I had no prior knowledge before reading this book. The political tensions between the Chinese residents and the Malays have reached a critical breaking point, each spurred by their own politicians. The riots break out while she's at the movies one afternoon, and Melati is saved and sheltered by a compassionate Chinese family, but she constantly imagines the worst for her mother while waiting for the chance to return home. Melati experiences acts of brutal cruelty and everyday heroism. She is racked with guilt as her best friend is taken away by an execution squad and killed. Melati's new acquaintances from both Chinese, Indian, and Malays risk their lives to offer her aid. Melati's severe obsessive compulsive disorder is exacerbated by the stress of her experiences and the anxiety of the unknown, which pushes her to her breaking point. Melati Ahmad sees her OCD as a tragedy-invoking djinn that can only be appeased through counting and tapping rituals; if she doesn't complete them, Melati fears, her mother will die a terrible death. The manifestation of a mental illness through a djinn is very common in Islamic tradition where mental illness is barely understood and poorly treated, especially in this era. What I really appreciated about this book is that Melati is not stunted by her mental illness. She continues to persist, her determination to reunite with her mother and help others in need gives her the inner strength to hold on. While her illness is not magically cured at the end, she is more open to talk about it and there is hope that she can find medication and help. I also appreciated that the author does a great job in informing the reader of the visceral, volatile setting without resulting to info dumping and bias. The secondary characters from different ethnic backgrounds are fully dimensional and balanced. The Weight of Our Sky is not an easy novel as it tackles death, racism, mental health issues, and riot violence, but these inclusions are necessary to portray contentious moment in time that is hardly discussed outside of Malaysia.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, and strong violence that take place mostly off the page but is alluded to in the story.

If you like this book try: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Under Rose-Tinted Skies by Louise Gornall
2 Responses
  1. Kindlemom Says:

    Sounds like this tackles a lot of things but all handled well. I love that! Great review!

  2. I don't know anything about this event in 1969 either and I don't think I've ever seen a book set in Kuala Lumpur either. Sounds like a good one. I am enjoying seeing what you read for Ramadan.

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