Like Here But Worse

In 2022 Shehan Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize for The Seven Moons of Maali Ameida. Hi ho. The book is bizarre in all the best ways.

It’s 1990 in Sri Lanka. Maali Almeida is a photographer, gambler, and self-described slut. He’s also a journalist and homosexual, so he has lots of enemies. And because Sri Lanka is in the middle of a civil war, it’s easy for a photo-journalist to die. It’s also easy for a homosexual to die – but not for the same reasons.

And what do you know? It’s page 1 and Maali is already dead. The after-life is a hellscape filled with demons, ghouls, ghosts, and bureaucrats who claim they want to help you. It’s just like the “living” world only worse.

Maali has no idea who killed him, why, or how he died. He has seven days (or seven moons) to figure it all out. Then he needs to decide what he’ll do next. To paraphrase The Clash: should he stay or should he go? Does his decision matter? Does anything matter? Yes, obviously, The Clash matters. Stay focused.

Seven Moons is impossible to categorize. It’s historical fiction in how it describes the Sri Lankan civil war. It’s a love letter to the Sri Lankan people traumatized by that war. It’s a satire on religion. It’s a parody lampooning people who try to change society through violence. It’s a deadly-serious comedy, and it succeeds regardless of the category you put it in.

But mostly, the story is a delight because, as flawed as Maali is, he is honest when it counts. Even though he lies to nearly everyone, he never lies to himself or the reader. He’s also brave, even when it’s not smart to be. When he is told his photos are gruesome, he responds “then maybe people should stop doing gruesome things.”

If Karunatilaka resembles any writer, it’s Kurt Vonnegut. At one time people read him. Maybe, with Seven Moons‘ deserved success, people will start reading Vonnegut again. If so, that would be another great thing about Maali Almeida.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Nothing Objectionable Here

Being the CEO of a for-profit college, the first thing I think about every morning (after I review the profit/loss statements) is our students’ education. And because there has been so much controversy lately over school textbooks, and the disgusting lies found in them, I decided to review our textbooks. I am thrilled to report I found nothing problematic, objectionable, or interesting in them.

Take our U.S. History textbook, for example. It’s perfect. Here’s the chapter on the Civil Disagreement Between the States in 1861.

For a handful of years, people in Africa were given free trips to the United States so they could work in the lovely country homes found in some those states. Due to the careful planning and generous spirit of the owners of these country homes, there were soon many people of African descent happily working. They sang songs.

But some states without country homes didn’t want people of African descent to work at these homes. They wanted people of African descent to swim back to Africa.

The people who owned the country homes said “No way. You can’t discriminate against people of African descent. They should be allowed to work at our country homes if we say they can.”

In 1861 the states got tired of shouting encouragement to each other inside buildings. So they went outside on large, open fields and shouted. It was so much fun people died.

Finally in 1865 the states got tired of all the fun. They decided it was wrong to allow people of African descent to work only at country homes. They passed laws enabling people of African descent to work for less than minimum wage anywhere an employer said they could. And American mythology continued to thrive.

That’s the entire chapter, and it’s beautiful. I love stories with a happy ending. And, really, isn’t that what education is all about?

Titmouse Beak, CEO of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology