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Malaysian voice captures young readers around the world

Ghosts and race riots dominate in prizewinning author Hanna Alkaf's work

Malaysian novelist Hana Alkaf's work provides a staunchly authentic depiction of her country to international young adult and middle-grade fiction readers. (Photo by Lim Eng Lee)

KUALA LUMPUR -- Beyond being young and Muslim, Malay girls Melati and Suraya share more than their backgrounds initially suggest. Melati, who was a teenager in 1960s Kuala Lumpur, loves The Beatles and watching films featuring the actor Paul Newman. Suraya lives in a nondescript Malay kampong (village) where she inherits a ghost from her grandmother, who is a witch.

Though their lives are wildly different, both girls share an ability to speak about the pain of growing up, keeping and losing relationships, and being Muslim in Southeast Asia. And it is that articulate picture of the trials of youth that has resonated with the thousands of young international readers who have read and loved the novels "The Weight of Our Sky" and "The Girl and the Ghost," by Kuala Lumpur-based writer Hanna Alkaf.

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