Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel won the Booker Prize in 2022. It is a searing, mordantly funny satire set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war.

Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet gay, has woken up dead in what seems to be 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.

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 will rock Sri Lanka. 

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was announced as the winner of the Booker Prize 2022 on October 17 at a ceremony in London.

The Booker Prize 2022
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Shehan Karunatilaka

Shehan Karunatilaka

About the Author

Shehan Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize in 2022. He is considered one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors. In addition to his novels he has written rock songs, screenplays and travel stories.
More about Shehan Karunatilaka

Shehan Karunatilaka on The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

‘I began thinking about [Seven Moons] in 2009, after the end of our civil war, when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was. A ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective seemed a bizarre enough idea to pursue, but I wasn’t brave enough to write about the present, so I went back 20 years, to the dark days of 1989.’

‘I began writing in 2014 and went through multiple versions, but maybe it needed that amount of time to evolve. First, I researched 1989, studied supernatural folklore, collected ghost stories and filled A3 sheets with notes in pencil. Then I typed an outline. And did beats for every chapter. Of course, the outline kept changing, as did the beats, and the ideas. But as soon as Maali’s voice emerged, the story began to find its rhythm, and five years later was ready to be read.’

Read the full interview here.

Shehan Karunatilaka winner of the Booker Prize 2022

What the judges said

‘Life after death in Sri Lanka: an afterlife noir, with nods to Dante and Buddha and yet unpretentious. Fizzes with energy, imagery and ideas against a broad, surreal vision of the Sri Lankan civil wars. Slyly, angrily comic.’

What the critics said

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

‘There’s nothing merely aspirational or derivative about The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Karunatilaka’s story drifts across Sri Lankan history and culture with a spirit entirely its own […] The novel’s deeper themes reach beyond politics to the problem of evil that threads through every theology and moral code.’

Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

‘With shades of Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell, his book is a dark, frenetic work of magic realism that angrily confronts Sri Lanka’s recent history of political violence […] A sense of disorder is central to the effect of this sprawling novel, and keeping track of the cast of antagonists (and the acronyms of their various organizations) can pose a challenge. Yet amid the confusion, a pressing moral inquiry emerges.’

Helen Elliot, Sydney Morning Herald

‘Original, sensational, imaginative, political, mysterious, romantic: it is obvious why this novel won the prize. It also has a manic strum that, along with the vivid chambers-of-horror – not confined to the underworld – will cause readers to put it down and not return. But it will have lasting effect.’

Nicholas Lezard, The Spectator

‘So we have the novel’s strengths and weaknesses exposed fairly early on. The strengths are its powerful and precise prose style; the weaknesses are those that are typical of magical realism – a succession of impossibilities that have to be assented to before the reader can get on […] Would that the rest of the book were so clear. Otherwise it is a smorgasbord of ghouls from which you can, with difficulty, pick out the bones of the recent, awful history of the place – if you are not allergic to magical realism. But I’m afraid the genre is not for me.’

Kate Mcloughlin, Times Literary Supplement

‘A rollicking magic-realist take on a recent bloody period in Sri Lankan history, set in an unpeaceful afterlife. It is messy and chaotic in all the best ways. It is also a pleasure to read: Karunatilaka writes with tinder-dry wit and an unfaltering ear for prose cadences.’

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Writing inspiration

In this video, Shehan Karunatilaka answers readers’ questions and talks about the ‘big ideas’ books that inspired him, including:

Plus he talks of his love of ‘Uncle’ Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King.

Buy the book & listen to Shehan's playlist

Shehan Karunatilaka created this playlist when he was writing ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’.