Sri Lanka World News

Booker Prize 2022: Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka wins with supernatural satire

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka has won the Booker prize for fiction. The judges praised the “ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques”.

Karunatilaka’s second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida comes more than a decade after his debut, Chinaman, which was published in 2011. The Booker-winning novel tells the story of the photographer of its title, who in 1990 wakes up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. With no idea who killed him, Maali has seven moons to contact the people he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos of civil war atrocities that will rock Sri Lanka.

Neil MacGregor, chair of the judges for this year’s prize, said the novel was chosen because “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”.

“And there the reader finds, to their surprise, joy, tenderness, love and loyalty,” he added.

MacGregor was joined on the judging panel by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; novelist and critic M John Harrison; and novelist, poet and professor Alain Mabanckou. The judges were unanimous in their decision to award the prize to Karunatilaka, according to the chair.

This year the original 1969 Booker prize trophy was reinstated in memory of its creator, the children’s author and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski, who died in February.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is published by the independent press Sort of Books. This year is the first time a book by the publisher has been longlisted for the prize. Karunatilaka has become the second Sri Lankan-born author to win, following Michael Ondaatje, who won in 1992 with The English Patient.

In his Guardian review, Tomiwa Owolade said the book’s “scenarios are often absurd … but executed with a humour and pathos that ground the reader”. He added: “Karunatilaka has done artistic justice to a terrible period in his country’s history.”

Karunatilaka, was born in Galle, Sri Lanka, in 1975 and grew up in Colombo. Chinaman won the Commonwealth prize, the DSL and the Gratiaen prize, and was selected for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read. The author has also written rock songs and screenplays.

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