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Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka wins 2022 Booker Prize
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka, a supernatural satire set amid a murderous Sri Lankan civil war, has won the Booker Prize.
Set in 1990 amid the violence and chaos of the Sri Lankan civil war, the novel follows Maali Almeida — a war photographer, gambler, gay man and self-described “slut” — as he is given seven nights to investigate his own death. The novel takes the form of a murder mystery but is characterised by its dark humour, imaginative approach to storytelling and dizzying cast of characters.
Karunatilaka was presented with a trophy by Queen Consort Camilla on Monday at the literary award’s first in-person ceremony since 2019. Pop singer Dua Lipa was the star guest.
The prestigious £50,000 prize, for a single work of fiction published in the UK in English, also gives the other five writers on the shortlist £2,500 each.
The writer said he decided in 2009 to write “a ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective” after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, “when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was”.In his acceptance speech on Monday, Karunatilaka said: “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.
“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.”
“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,” said Neil MacGregor, the art historian and chair of this year’s judges.
“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. It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ‘the world’s dark heart’ — the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka,” he added.
Karunatilaka, who was born in Galle in 1975 and grew up in the capital Colombo, becomes the second Sri Lanka-born author to win the award after Michael Ondaatje, who won in 1992 with The English Patient.
His debut novel Chinaman, which was published in 2011 and centred on a Sri Lankan cricketing virtuoso, won the Commonwealth Prize.
The jury’s decision to give Karunatilaka the £50,000 Booker Prize, the UK’s premier fiction award for works written in English, also represents a win for independent publishing. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is published by Sort of Books, a small London-based publisher of fiction and non-fiction.
First awarded in 1969, the Booker is open to writers around the world as long as their work is written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
Others on this year’s shortlist included British author Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker; Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory; Small Things Like These by Irish writer Claire Keegan; US author Percival Everett’s The Trees; and Oh William! by US author Elizabeth Strout.