by NoViolet Bulawayo
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka is tonight, Monday October 17, named winner of the Booker Prize 2022
The author was presented with his trophy by Her Majesty The Queen Consort in a new-look ceremony held at the Roundhouse, featuring a keynote speech by singer-songwriter Dua Lipa and hosted by comedian Sophie Duker.
The announcement, made by Chair of judges, Neil MacGregor, was broadcast live to a global audience as part of a 45-minute Front Row special on BBC Radio 4 (airing at the later time of 9.15pm), presented by Samira Ahmed, and with the winning moment livestreamed on the Booker Prizes’ YouTube channel.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka is tonight, Monday October 17, named winner of the Booker Prize 2022. The author was presented with his trophy by Her Majesty The Queen Consort in a new-look ceremony held at the Roundhouse, featuring a keynote speech by singer-songwriter Dua Lipa and hosted by comedian Sophie Duker.
The announcement, made by Chair of judges, Neil MacGregor, was broadcast live to a global audience as part of a 45-minute Front Row special on BBC Radio 4 (airing at the later time of 9.15pm), presented by Samira Ahmed.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, published by the independent press Sort of Books, explores life after death in a noir investigation set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war. In Colombo, 1990, war photographer Maali Almeida is dead, and has no idea who has killed him. 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 will rock Sri Lanka. It has been described by the Booker Prize judges as ‘whodunnit and a race against time, full of ghosts, gags and a deep humanity.’
It is Karunatilaka’s much-anticipated second novel; his debut, Chinaman (2011), won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSL and the Gratiaen Prize, and was selected for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read last year.
Karunatilaka, who was born in Galle, Sri Lanka in 1975 and grew up in Colombo, said in an interview for The Booker Prizes’ website that ‘Sri Lankans specialise in gallows humour and make jokes in the face of crises […] it’s our coping mechanism’.
When asked at longlist stage how he felt about being nominated for the prize, he responded: ‘To make any longlist requires luck […] to have a novel about Sri Lanka’s chaotic past come out just when the world is watching Sri Lanka’s chaotic present also requires an alignment of dark forces. Unlike my protagonist Maali Almeida, I don’t gamble. So I don’t expect to roll two more sixes, though I will scream with joy if I do.’
Neil MacGregor, Chair of the 2022 judges, says:
‘Any one of the six shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner. What the judges particularly admired and enjoyed in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was the ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques. This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west. It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ’the world’s dark heart’ — the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.’
Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:
‘This year’s Booker judges have formed an incredible team. At their final meeting they were sad to disband, and to be separated from the books that had kept them company. They had come to find that reading, a private act, had become bigger and richer when it was done in a group, and as they showed one another what each of the novels they read could be.
‘The 170 novels they read originated in many parts of the globe. “We’re going to show that you can find a diamond anywhere in the world,” said one of the judges. Finally, their longlist of 13 undiminished in spirit, they settled on a single gem: a book they were excited to press into the hands of readers everywhere.
‘My thanks to the judges, and all joy to the Booker Prize 2022 winner, Shehan Karunatilaka.’
Karunatilaka has been praised for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Tomiwa Owolade in The Guardian for ‘his ability to do artistic justice to a terrible period in his country’s history’. Lucy Popescu agrees, commenting in the Financial Times that it is ‘an ambitious novel, epic in scope (mixing tropes from thrillers, crime fiction and magic realism) and a powerful evocation of Sri Lanka’s brutal past.’ Kate Mcloughlin from The Times Literary Supplement highlights Karunatilaka’s ‘tinder-dry wit’ and ‘unfaltering ear for prose cadence’.
Karunatilaka received £50,000 presented to him by last year’s winner Damon Galgut, a designer-bound edition of his book, and the £2,500 given to each shortlisted author. As the winner, he can expect instant international recognition and a dramatic increase in global sales. He is also the recipient of a newly designed trophy. The Booker Prize has worked with Factum Foundation to reinstate the original 1969 Booker Prize trophy in memory of its creator, the beloved children’s author and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski, who died in February this year.
Neil MacGregor was joined on this year’s judging panel by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; novelist and critic M. John Harrison; and novelist, poet and professor Alain Mabanckou.
Imagined Worlds, a special programme will air tomorrow (October 18) on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm. MacGregor and his fellow judges will explore what imagined worlds this year’s shortlisted novelists have created and what they tell us about the times we are living through. It was recorded ahead of the winner decision, and they will explore the threads linking the diverse novels on the shortlist and share insights into the judging process.
This year’s re-imagined ceremony
The first fully in-person event since 2019 brought together Booker writers past and present with a diverse range of readers, and celebrated talent from across the cultural spectrum.
Winner Karunatilaka and shortlisted authors NoViolet Bulawayo, Percival Everett and Claire Keegan were all in attendance, with Alan Garner attending virtually. Elizabeth Strout was unable to attend due to illness.
Her Majesty The Queen Consort made one of her first public appearances since the change of reign. In her role as Duchess of Cornwall, she was Patron of the National Literacy Trust and a long-standing supporter of our joint programme, Books Unlocked, which distributes Booker-shortlisted books in prisons. In addition to presenting the trophy, she met with the shortlisted authors, the judges and other guests, including Bernardine Evaristo, Anna Burns, Damon Galgut and Dua Lipa.
Dua Lipa delivered a rousing speech on how a love of reading has shaped her imagination, her identity, and her career as a global pop superstar. She credited reading books by Ismail Kadare, who won the inaugural International Booker Prize, for testing her language skills ‘while also helping me connect with my family’s heritage and identity as Kosovan Albanians’, adding, ‘I often wonder if authors realise just how many gifts they give us.’ She explained: ‘Touring commitments take me all over the globe and life is often hectic. Sometimes, just to survive, I need to adopt a tough exterior. And at these times, it is books that soften me.’
The singer-songwriter also led guests in singing Happy Birthday to Garner, who celebrated his 88th birthday today. In addition, guests were treated to the limber jazz-inflected tones of Roundhouse Resident Artist and Amy Winehouse Foundation alumna, India Shan.
Meanwhile, British-Turkish author Elif Shafak, who appeared on the Booker Prize shortlist in 2019 with Salman Rushdie, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row about what the attack on his life means for writers around the world, and judge Helen Castor acknowledged the extraordinary achievement of the late double-Booker winner Hilary Mantel.
Also in attendance were Chwaeroniaeth Book Club, winners of the inaugural Booker Prize Book Club Challenge. The Booker Prize partnered with the national charity The Reading Agency to select six groups to each read and discuss a different book on the 2022 shortlist, and compete for places at the winner ceremony for the first time. Chwaeroniaeth were chosen as winners for their subtle analysis of and emotional engagement with Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William!
Shehan Karunatilaka saw his book brought to life by actor Prasanna Puwanarajah in a two-minute video directed by Kevin Thomas and produced by Mermade Films as part of a Booker Prize commission. All 12 videos made for the shortlisted books form part of the Booker Prize’s new digital publishing venture designed to encourage more people to read quality fiction, and can be watched on The Booker Prizes website and YouTube channels now.