Shehan Karunatilaka wins Man Booker Prize

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka has been named winner of the Booker Prize 2022 (17 October). The author was presented with his trophy by Her Majesty the Queen Consort in a new-look ceremony held at the Roundhouse.

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 has 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 specialise in gallows humour and make jokes in the face of crises […] it’s our coping mechanism’. When asked at 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, said: ‘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 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.’

Karunatilaka received £50,000 presented to him by last year’s winner Damon Galgut, a designer-bound edition of his book, and the £2,500 given to each shortlisted author. As the winner, he can expect instant international recognition and a dramatic increase in global sales. He is also the recipient of a newly designed trophy. The Booker Prize has worked with Factum Foundation to reinstate the original 1969 Booker Prize trophy in memory of its creator, the beloved children’s author and illustrator Jan Pie?kowski, who died in February this year. Neil MacGregor was joined on this year’s judging panel by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; novelist and critic M John Harrison; and novelist, poet and professor Alain Mabanckou.

Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel is a searing, mordantly funny satire set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war.

Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet gay, has woken up dead in what seems to be a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. At a time when scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long.

But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. 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. 

Shehan Karunatilaka is considered one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors. In addition to his novels he has written rock songs, screenplays and travel stories.

Shehan Karunatilaka emerged on to the global literary stage in 2011, when he won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSL and Gratiaen Prize for his debut novel, Chinaman. The book was declared the second-best cricket book of all time by Wisden.

Born in Galle, Sri Lanka, in 1975, Karunatilaka grew up in Colombo, studied in New Zealand and has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam and Singapore. He currently lives in Sri Lanka. His songs, scripts and stories have been published in Rolling Stone, GQ and National Geographic. He has worked as an advertising copywriter and played guitar in a band called Independent Square.

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