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Leading Sri Lankan novelist Shehan Karunatilaka longlisted for 2022 Booker Prize

As the current crisis in Sri Lanka deepens, this novel, set amid the island’s civil war and insurgency, feels extraordinarily timely


Sri Lankan novelist Shehan Karunatilaka has been longlisted for the Booker Prize for his novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, to be published by independent publisher Sort Of Books next week.


Karunatilaka is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, which was included in the 2022 Big Jubilee Read selection earlier this year and was described by fellow Sri Lankan ­­Michael Ondaatje as ‘a crazy ambidextrous delight’.


The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a searing, mordantly funny, state-of-the- nation satire set amid the murderous mayhem of Sri Lanka beset by civil war. Set in Colombo, 1990, it’s the story of Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet queen, who has woken up dead in what seems like 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, as the ghouls and ghosts who cluster around him can attest.


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 he is convinced will rock Sri Lanka’s rotten politics.


Karunatilaka’s scorching political satire is steeped in the idiom, folk beliefs and violent mayhem of 1990s Sri Lanka. And history has a habit of repeating itself. The disgraced President Rajapaksa was known to rely as much on spirit guides as economists, and civilian protesters are once more under threat of state violence. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida seems disturbingly prescient. A devil’s dance of a read for all who wish to understand the rich, troubled fabric of Sri Lanka.


Sort of Books publisher Nat Jansz (herself of Sri Lankan origin) says:

“It’s rare that you read a book that seems so viscerally true to a country and society. Shehan Karunatilaka plunges its readers – with wild wit and verve – into the heart of Sri Lanka’s culture and politics. There’s gay lust, ghosts, comic set pieces and a thriller spin, but it’s the sheer joy of his wordplay that keeps you hooked. This tour-de-force novel comes just as its most needed. We’re delighted at its recognition.”


Shehan Karunatilaka says "It’s been a big month in Sri Lanka. Three weeks ago, we were storming Palaces. Two weeks ago, we were evicting Presidents. Now we have petrol queues, deepening poverty and plenty of things to write about. And then comes this fabulous news. I wrote “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” as a reminder of how bad things can get, even in this paradise. We need no reminder today. I’ve tried to write this book many times. As Sri Lanka has hurtled from tragedy to disaster. It’s thrilling and surreal to see it on the Booker longlist. Thank you for this honour. It’s good to feel some joy, amidst all this anxiety and uncertainty. Jayaweva!"

Shehan Karunatilaka is the author of the award winning Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, which was selected for the UK’s 2022 Big Jubilee Read selection. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is his second novel. Born in Sri Lanka, he studied in New Zealand and has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam and Singapore. He lives in Colombo, which he says is currently an experiment in ‘net zero’.


PRAISE FOR SHEHAN KARUNATILAKA’S PREVIOUS NOVEL, CHINAMAN


‘A crazy ambidextrous delight’ Michael Ondaatje


‘Celebrate the arrival of the Great Sri Lankan Novel’ Simon Barnes, The Times


‘The strength of the book lies in its energy, humour and heartwrenching emotion ... and its blazing anger about what Sri Lanka has done to itself’ Kamila Shamsie, The Guardian


The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Publication 4 August, ISBN 978-1908745903, £16.99 hardback.

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