Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize this week for his second novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Written in the second person, this comedic yet dark book allows readers an insight into the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war while also capturing Karunatilaka’s unique voice.
The book focuses on Maali Almeida, a war photographer, gambler and closet gay. He has also just woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira lake. He has no idea who killed him.
At a time where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long. The ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest to that. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will rock Sri Lanka.
Karunatilaka, who works as a copywriter, began writing the novel in 2014 but decided to set it 25 years earlier. “1989 was the darkest year in my memory,” he said, “where there was an ethnic war, a Marxist uprising, a foreign military presence and state counter-terror squads… Despite having a grim history and a troubled present, Sri Lanka is not a dour or depressing place. We specialise in gallows humour and make jokes in the face of our crises.”
Of the shortlist, the Booker Judges say: Life after death in Sri Lanka: an afterlife noir, with nods to Dante and Buddha and yet unpretentious. Fizzes with energy, imagery and ideas against a broad, surreal vision of the Sri Lankan civil wars. Slyly, angrily comic.
Neil MacGregor, Chair of the 2022 judges, says: Any one of the six shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner. What the judges particularly admired and enjoyed in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was the ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques.
LitVox says: With somewhat absurd moments, and second person narrative, this book uses humour to connect with it’s audience while capturing the horrors of the Sri Lanka civil wars.