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