Shehan Karunatilaka wins Booker for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

The book explores life after death

Shehan Karunatilaka has been named the winner of the Booker Prize 2022 for his book The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Photo The Booker Prize

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka has been named the winner of the Booker Prize 2022.

The author was presented with his trophy by the Queen consort at a ceremony held at the Roundhouse, featuring a keynote speech by singer-songwriter Dua Lipa and hosted by comedian Sophie Duke

The announcement, made by the Chair of judges, Neil MacGregor, was broadcast live to a global audience as part of a 45-minute Front Row special on BBC.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, published by the independent press Sort of Books, explores life after death in a noir investigation set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war. 

In Colombo, 1990, war photographer Maali Almeida is dead, and has no idea who killed him. He has seven moons to try and contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will rock Sri Lanka. It has been described by the Booker Prize judges as ‘whodunnit and a race against time, full of ghosts, gags and a deep humanity.’

It is Karunatilaka’s much-anticipated second novel. His debut, Chinaman (2011), won the Commonwealth Prize, the DSL, and the Gratiaen Prize, and was selected for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read last year.

Karunatilaka, who was born in Galle, Sri Lanka in 1975 and grew up in Colombo, said in an interview for The Booker Prizes’ website that ‘Sri Lankans specialize in gallows humor and make jokes in the face of crises […] it’s our coping mechanism’.

When asked at the longlist stage how he felt about winning the prize, he responded, “To make any longlist requires luck […] to have a novel about Sri Lanka’s chaotic past come out just when the world is watching Sri Lanka’s chaotic present also requires an alignment of dark forces. Unlike my protagonist Maali Almeida, I don’t gamble. So I don’t expect to roll two more sixes, though I will scream with joy if I do.”

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. 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 in Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.”

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