Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel, THE SEVEN MOONS OF MAALI ALMEIDA was announced the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize – the most prestigious literary prize in the English-speaking world – at The Roundhouse in London on 17 October this year. Set against the backdrop of civil war, it follows the story of renegade war photographer Maali Almeida, tasked with solving his own murder.
The first draft was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize under the title, DEVIL DANCE. It was subsequently published as CHATS WITH THE DEAD before being revised to “make it familiar to Western readers” during the two-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic and released by the independent British publishing house Sort of Books this year under THE SEVEN MOONS title.The Booker judges said that the novel “fizzes with energy, imagery and ideas against a broad, surreal view of the Sri Lankan civil wars. Slyly, angrily comic.” On his website Shehan is described as “writing about forgotten cricketers, drunk old men, war photographers, chatty ghosts, self-driving cars and time travelers. His stories are absurd and mostly true. He lives in Colombo with his wife, two kids, five guitars and thirty-two unfinished stories.”
Shehan grew up in the Sri Lankan capital and was educated in New Zealand, graduating from Massey University with a degree in English Literature against his family’s wish to study business administration.
His debut novel in 2010, CHINAMAN: THE LEGEND OF PRADEEP MATHEW won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the Gratiaen Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. It was also adjudged the second greatest cricket book of all time by Wisden in 2019. telling the story of an alcoholic sports journalist’s quest to track down a missing Sri Lankan cricketer of the 1980’s. Shehan’s first manuscript THE PAINTER was shortlisted for the 2000 Gratiaen Prize, but was never published. He has also published three children’s books with more in the pipeline and another novel “that will hopefully not take ten years to finish.”
He has said that his influences are Kurt Vonnegut, William Goldman, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Tom Robbins and “a few hundred other authors.”
Shehan also plays bass for the rock bands ‘Independent Square’, ‘Powercut Circus’ and ‘Brass Monkey Band’ and has written and spoken about his lifelong obsession with ‘The Police’.
Three days after Shehan won the Booker he appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre in AN EVENING WITH THE 2022 BOOKER PRIZE WINNER event as part of the London Literature Festival. When I met him at the aftermatch booksigning he immediately recognised my Kiwi accent so we immediately found a point of reference as fellow alumni of Massey University in Palmerston North on New Zealand’s North Island, and the city’s best student takeaway. NZ Stuff described him as a ‘Sri Lankan-Kiwi’ after his win and said that he is in the process of moving back to Aotearoa, something he mentioned to me. He then signed a copy of his book and my sketch.