The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka has won the Booker prize for fiction. Its ambitious scope and the comic audacity of its narrative was largely cited for its success.
Ten years after the release of his exhilarating debut Chinaman, Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida combines the passion for cricket with the tragedy of Sri Lanka’s civil war. His second book, which is set at the end of the 1980s, explores national horror and violence once more while tracing its origins in colonial history. It’s also a quirky love story, both romantic and platonic, as well as a mystery written in the second person.
Maali Almeida, a cheerful photojournalist with a passion for gambling and attractive men, wakes up dead as the book opens. He discovers himself in an afterlife that is equally treacherous and perplexing as the physical one. The afterlife he portrays is a crowded and a chaotic place that draws on Dante’s Inferno as well as Sri Lankan mythology.
The book follows Almeida in his oddball journey. He has seven moons to get in touch with the people he cares about the most and direct them to a secret stash of images documenting atrocities committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.
“It’s a book that takes the reader on a rollercoaster journey through life and death right to what the author describes as the dark heart of the world.” Wion quoted Neil MacGregor, chair of the judges for this year’s prize.
Karunatilaka addressed the Sri Lankan people in Tamil and Sinhalese after accepting his award. “I write these books for you… Let’s keep sharing these stories.” Wion quoted him.
He expressed the hope that one day, Sri Lanka’s politics would be such that his work would “sit on the fantasy shelves of bookshops.”
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, The Trees by Percival Everett, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout were the other books on the shortlist. MacGregor said that although all six books on the shortlist were very different, “it became clear … that they were all really about one question, and that is ‘what’s the importance of an individual life?’” as quoted by The Guardian.