Narrated By A Dead Man
One day, Maali Almeida, a war photographer and a gambler, woke up in the morning to find himself dead. As his dismembered body was sinking in the serene Beira lake, he had no idea how he was killed. However, Almeida could not afford to die, as he would have to find the causes behind his death, and the persons responsible for it. For that, he would have to deliver urgent information about his murder to his friends.
This is how Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka‘s (born 1975) second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida‘ starts. This state-of-the-nation epic, which has proved yet again that the best fiction offers the ultimate truth, was announced as the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize on October 17, 2022. On October 18, Karunatilaka received the Booker from Camilla, the Queen Consort and wife of King Charles III, at an event held in London.
Karunatilaka’s novel is based on the 1989 Civil War in Sri Lanka. War photographer Almeida, the lead character of the novel, believes that photographs of the Civil War, clicked by him, will bring peace to the war-torn island nation (just as the image of the Napalm-girl Phan Thị Kim Phúc had made public opinion in favour of ending the Vietnam War). After his assassination, Almeida was left with only seven days to find the photographs, clicked by him, and to deliver them to his friends. In fact, Time is of essence for Almeida, who had seven moons to reach out to loved ones, and guide them to hidden photos he had taken depicting the brutality of his country’s conflict.
The Booker juries have considered this apparently horrific novel as a document of troubled times in South Asia, including Sri Lanka. Commenting on Karunatilaka’s publication, Judges Chair Neil MacGregor said: “This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west.” He stressed: “It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to the world’s dark heart – the murderous horrors of Civil War in Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers tenderness and beauty, love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justifies every human life.“
Meanwhile, the 47-year-old author stated: “My hope for ‘Seven Moons’ is that in the not too distant future… it is read in a Sri Lanka that has understood that these ideas of corruption, race baiting and cronyism have not worked and will never work.” Delivering his acceptance speech, Karunatilaka further said: “I hope it is read in a Sri Lanka that learns from its stories and that Seven Moons will be in the fantasy section of the bookshop and will… not be mistaken for realism or political satire.“
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