Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka, who has won the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction, may not be a prolific novelist, but he’s all quality.
His first novel, Chinaman, published in 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.
Now he has won the Booker with his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, which tells the story of a photographer who wakes up dead in 1990 in a sort of heavenly visa office.
According to the Guardian, “With no idea who killed him, Maali has seven moons to contact the people he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos of civil war atrocities that will rock Sri Lanka.”
Neil MacGregor, chair of this year’s judging panel, described the winning book as one “that takes the reader on a rollercoaster journey through life and death right to what the author describes as the dark heart of the world”.
“And there the reader finds, to their surprise, joy, tenderness, love and loyalty.”
The judges praised “the ambition of [the book’s] scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques”.
Camilla, the Queen Consort, presented the prize to Karunatilaka in one of her first official duties in her new role, and last year’s winner, South African writer Damon Galgut, handed over the £50 000 (about R1million) prize cheque.
At the awards ceremony on Monday October 17 at London’s Roundhouse, Karunatilaka made a speech in Tamil and Sinhalese, and then summarised it in English. He said he wrote both his books for his fellow countrymen, and hoped the political situation in Sri Lanka would one day see books like his “sit on the fantasy shelves of bookshops”.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is published by Sort of Books.
The other books on the shortlist were Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, The Trees by Percival Everett, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout.
MacGregor said although the six shortlisted books were very different, “it became clear … that they were all really about one question, and that is ‘what’s the importance of an individual life’?”