The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, a book by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka about a journalist killed amid sectarian conflict in his country, was awarded the British Booker Prize on Monday.
My aim with Seven Moons is that it will be read in a Sri Lanka that has realized that notions like corruption, race-baiting, and cronyism have never worked and will never work in the not-too-distant future.
I hope it’s published in ten years. Still, if it is, I hope it was written in a Sri Lanka that learns from its tales and that Seven Moons will be found in the fantasy department of the bookstore, next to the dragons and unicorns, and won’t be misconstrued for realism or political satire, he said.
Following Michael Ondaatje’s triumph for “The English Patient” in 1992, Karunatilaka, 47, is the second Sri Lankan to get the honor.
Winning the Booker may change a career beyond the £50,000 ($56,000) award by increasing sales and public exposure.
The novel is “an afterlife noir that breaks the barriers not merely of various genres, but life and death, body and soul, east and west,” according to the chair of judges Neil MacGregor.
The tale takes place in Colombo in the late 1980s during the chaos of a civil war.
After being slain, war photographer and gambler Maali Almeida decides to use her seven moons in the afterlife to figure out who killed her and reveal the cruelty of the war.
It was described as a “whodunnit and a race against time, full of ghosts, humor, and a profound humanism” by the Booker Prize jury.
– Mantel tribute –
Chinaman, Karunatilaka’s first book, was chosen for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read last year and received the Commonwealth Prize.
The Booker has not had a sizable in-person event before the London award presentation since 2019.
One of Queen Consort Camilla’s most high-profile appearances since her husband, King Charles III, came to the throne last month, she presented the prize during the broadcast event.
Karunatilaka quipped as he accepted the trophy, “Without wanting to sound corny, we are all winners by being part of this amazing shortlist, but, maybe I might pocket the additional $1,000 if that’s okay?”
Singer-songwriter Dua Lipa also gave a speech during the nighttime event.
Except for one, all six nominated writers were there in person. Alan Garner, an Englishman who turned 88 on Monday, appeared remotely.
Garner, most known for his children’s fantasy books and folktale retellings, was chosen for “Treacle Walker,” the finalist novel with the fewest words.
NoViolet Bulawayo, who wrote “Glory,” an animal story based in her home Zimbabwe, was one of the other writers selected.
The inclusion of American Percival Everett for “Trees” gave indie publisher Influx Press its first spot on the Booker shortlists.
The shortlist was completed with “Small Things Like These” by Irish novelist Claire Keegan and “Oh William!” by American author Elizabeth Strout.
The Booker is the top literary honor given to English-language books in Britain. Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Hilary Mantel are a few of its former honorees.
Mantel, who passed away last month at 70, was given a special homage at the event on Monday.
With the first two books in her “Wolf Hall” trilogy, she became the first British author and woman to win the award twice.