Sri Lankan poet Shehan Karunatilka has won the Booker Prize, which is known as the most prestigious literary prize in the world after the Nobel, beating all five shortlisted books. Why the jury chose a novelist from Sri Lanka, an economically devastated country, is a question. Two Americans, a Briton and two other countries were five serious contenders. The judging panel included a Bangladeshi-born university facilitator, Shahida Bari. He said after the shortlist was released, “I don’t know how we’re going to choose a winning book from these fantastic final six.” It is understood that the committee had to go to great lengths to verify the fair value. The committee was chaired by writer-historian Neil McGregor. Members included historian Helen Castor, novelist M John Harrison and poet-novelist Alain Mabangku. Announced on October 17, the award went to the satirical supernatural novel “The Seven Moons of Mali Almeida.” Sheehan received the £50,000 prize at an event in London. This novel chronicles the afterlife of a dead war photographer. It covers the period of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Five other shortlisted writers received £2,500 each. Sheehan was preceded by another Sri Lankan author, Michael Ondaatje, who won the award in 1992 for “The English Patient.” After a long time, the name of the country was added to it. Critics say the book “The Seven Moons of Mali Almeida” is part murder mystery, part political satire and part love story. Its author recalled the horrific events that inspired him to write it, and its publisher urged him to do better. At least one author has already won the award for writing ghost stories or supernatural stories. So it won’t be fair to shorten it, according to a group of critics. The shortlisted writers who did not receive the award are – ‘Glory’ author Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), ‘Treacle Walker’ author Alan Garner (Great Britain), ‘Small Things Like These’ author Claire Keegan (Ireland), ‘ The Percival Everett (USA) author of Trees and Elizabeth Trout (USA) author of ‘Oh William’.
Shehan Karunatilaka was born in 1975 in Galle, in the south of Sri Lanka. Galle is one of the major cities in Sri Lanka. The location of this city is 119 km southeast of Colombo. The Portuguese came here in the 16th century. The famous traveler Ibn Battuta visited the city in the 14th century and called it “Kali”. Sheehan grew up in the capital, Colombo. He was educated at S. Thomas Preparatory School, Kolu-Pitiya, Sri Lanka, Wanganui Collegiate School and Massey University, Palmerston North (where he studied English Literature as well as Business Administration) . He also studied in New Zealand. He chooses London, Amsterdam and Singapore as his place of residence and work. He has worked in advertising for McCann, Iris and BBDO and has written articles for The Guardian, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, GQ, National Geographic, Condé Nast, Wisden, The Cricketer and Economic Times. He was also part of Sri Lankan rock bands Independent Square and Powercut Circus and Brass Monkey Band.
Karunatilka’s first novel “Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew”. It was published in 2010. The book was fateful. It has won the Commonwealth Award, DSC Award, Gratian Award and was ranked second best cricketing book of all time by Wisden. Karunatilaka’s first manuscript, The Painter, was shortlisted for the Gratian Prize in 2000, but was never published. Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew tells the story of an alcoholic journalist’s quest to find a missing Sri Lankan cricketer in the 1980s. It has also been described as “part tragedy, part comedy, part mystery and part drunk-memory”. Chinaman’s story is based on the events that happened in Sri Lanka in 1999. The narrator of the story is retired sports journalist WG Karunasena, who at the age of 64 has nothing does anything but drink arrack and watch Sri Lankan cricket. When the doctors found out about his liver problem, they decided to find the biggest thing he had ever seen. Pradeep Mathew was a Sri Lankan left arm spinner in the late 1980s.
Karunatilka won the Booker Prize for her second novel, The Seven Moons of Mali Almeida. What is in this novel? Different versions of it are published under different titles. When the first project was shortlisted for the Gratian Award in 2015, it was titled Devil Dance. It was released in the Indian subcontinent by Penguin India in 2020 under the title “Chat with the Dead”. Most editors find Sri Lankan politics “mysterious and confusing” and many find the “mythology and world-building inscrutable and difficult for Western readers”. Therefore, they did not want to publish the book. UK publishing house Sort of Books agreed to publish the novel after editing it “to introduce it to Western readers”. “I’d like to say it’s the same book, but it benefits from two years of corona austerity and it’s much more accessible,” says Kurunatilka. … I think the final piece is that the name ‘The Seven Moons of Mali Almeida’ will be the final title and become popular with readers.’
His words came true. Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War, the novel revolves around a war photographer. He takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of his own murder.
It will look like a ghost story, because the dead character speaks. And this drama is the main secret of the book. The story follows Mali Almeida, a war photographer. The author sets the story of the book in light of the events of 1989, as was the case when “the Tigers, the army, the Indian peacekeepers, the JVP terrorists and the death squads of the state were all killing each other on a massive scale”. The period of curfews, bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and mass graves seemed to the author to be “a perfect setting for a ghost story, a detective story or a spy thriller. Sheehan has also written books for children and teenagers. ‘Please Don’t Put That In Your Mouth (2019) evoked the story of his artist/painter brother Lalith Karunatilka.
Some have called the 2022 election “short and fun.” A number of shortlisted novels had humor, hence the commentary. The answer is that humor came to hide the painful chapters of history. However, even though there are several dimensions in a book, the linguistic quality of Shehan Karunatilka is quite sophisticated. It can be said to be colored in different colors. When he writes a love story, his language is one, but when the ghost becomes his character, his language becomes different. When writing a spy thriller, it becomes shrouded in mystery. Almeida combines all of these themes in this crime novel. In his own words: “Those who know the truth about the Sri Lankan civil war are dead. So why not let them tell their own stories? In this book, the author defines the history of the love triangle in the light of the characteristics of language. It was his hard work in this area that helped bring the novel to life. Karunatilka was unsure if it would be fair to call the book a political satire or not. According to him – “I describe things quite accurately, … maybe I do it with a bit of a smile, but those are the events.” A ghost story, in which the dead can present their visions, seemed strange enough to follow, he added of the book. But I wasn’t brave enough to write about the present, so I went back 20 years to the dark days of 1989. This past story recalls history in the shadow of satire, the supernatural, and love triangles with the present happening. This sequence of the story is the essence of the novel and is therefore relevant.