The international reaction to Shehan Karunatilka’s Booker Prize win has been universally positive. Here, we round up the best responses
From Norway to New York - and of course to South Asia - news of Shehan Karunatilaka’s Booker Prize win has spread across the world. The Sri Lankan author’s triumph, with his second novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, was greeted with enthusiasm from book lovers and the international media.
‘This is a novel that combines cosmic vision with down-to-earth humour and hard-won heart,’ she added.
In the Times, James Walton said: ‘There can’t be many novels that simultaneously bring to mind Agatha Christie, Salman Rushdie, Raymond Chandler, John le Carré and Stranger Things — but this one does. At heart, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida could be described as a whodunnit… There is, however, more to the book than that. An awful lot more.’
Many commentators focused on Karunatilaka’s acceptance speech for the Booker Prize, in which he spoke in Tamil and Sinhalese as well as English. At one point he said: ‘My hope for Seven Moons is that in the not-too-distant future… it is read in a Sri Lanka that has understood that these ideas of corruption, race-baiting and cronyism have not worked and will never work.’
Writing in The Conversation, Lucy Christopher said that Karunatilaka’s ‘win couldn’t come at a better time for Sri Lanka, a country once more engaged in political and economic instability’. She said that the novel ‘is at once a black comedy about the afterlife, a murder mystery whodunit, and a political satire set against the violent backdrop of the late-1980s Sri Lankan civil war,’ the outlet wrote. ‘It is also a story of love and redemption.’
🏆 Congratulations to Shehan Karunatilaka, winner of the #BookerPrize2022!— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) October 18, 2022
The Queen Consort, who has long-championed the joy of reading and advocated for literacy, presented @ShehanKaru with the prize for his novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’.@TheBookerPrizes
Robbie Millen, in The Times, interviewing Karunatilaka after his win, said that the book ‘brims with life and energy’, and ‘is also a reminder to the world of the horrors that took place in what he [Karunatilaka] calls his country’s “forever war”’.
Martin Chilton in the Independent admitted his favourite of the shortlisted books was Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, but said that ‘in the midst of chaotic, bewildering times, Karunatilaka’s novel offers the opportunity to understand what is transpiring in a troubled part of the world, with compelling things to say about the nature of conflict and the importance of an individual life’.
Instagrammers and YouTubers were quick to react to Karunatilaka’s win. On Instagram, Eric Karl Anderson (lonesomereader) wrote: ‘Since the protagonist of Karunatilaka’s novel is a gambler it felt appropriate to place a bet on it and it was my favourite to win. So happy with this result as it’s such an entertaining and insightful story. I’m glad more people will be reading it now.’ Anderson, who attended the ceremony, also published a lengthy vlog on YouTube.
On Instagram, Sri Lankan bookstore Vijitha Yapa Bookshop shared a photo of Karunatilaka signing books, congratulating him for winning for his ‘epic imagination and storytelling’ in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.
The Book Elixir on Instagram shared a photo of the book with its original title, Chats with the Dead (before it was published in the UK), urging people to ‘read this dark comedy’ and thanking Karunatilaka for writing the novel.
TikTokkers including @asiasbooks, quickly added The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida to their reading lists, while @AlbertWisnerLibrary congratulated Karunatilaka on a TikTok featuring all the shortlisted books. TikTokker @thebooksatchel gave a summary of the book in a video also remarking on the International Booker Prize winner Tomb of Sand by Indian writer Geetanjali Shree and translated by Daisy Rockwell, observing that 2022 has been a big year for South Asian authors.
Actor Prasanna Puwanarajah, who read from The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida for the Booker Prize shortlist films, tweeted a picture of himself and Karunatilaka at the ceremony, and wrote: ‘Extraordinary winner, profound and funny speech. Everything a book can be, an honour to read a bit of it. Congrats machaan, lead the way x.’
Author Monisha Rajesh wrote on Twitter: ‘YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS! Biggest biggest congratulations to @ShehanKaru for picking up the Booker.’
Literary critic John Self tweeted: ‘Heavenly lunar congratulations to Shehan Karunatilaka for his @TheBookerPrizes win with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida! It blends the spirits of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, George Saunders, Cormac McCarthy and more, all drawn together by a dead narrator.’
Congrats to Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka! And what a night it was - the first in-person gathering of the @TheBookerPrizes in three years at London’s legendary @RoundhouseLDN. You can listen to his acceptance speech in full here: https://t.co/aRg42oJiMt https://t.co/NFaHLTnMvf— Bernardine Evaristo (@BernardineEvari) October 18, 2022
Politicians also congratulated the author, with Rauff Hakeem, the leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and a member of the Sri Lankan parliament, writing on Twitter: ‘My hearty congratulations to Shehan Karunatilaka on becoming the second Sri Lankan-born author to receive the Booker Prize for his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida for what the BBC reports as a “supernatural satire” with a compelling storyline. Well done!’
Namal Rajapaksa, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament, tweeted: ‘What a moment for Shehan Karunatilaka and what a proud moment for #SriLanka! Congratulations to @ShehanKaru on winning the #BookerPrize2022 for his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.’
But not everyone was happy with the response from Sri Lankan politicians, with Karunatilaka telling that Guardian that some of their posts were met by a furious response from Sri Lankans, who ‘piled back on them saying: “Stay away from this guy. He’s writing about YOU.”’.
Karunatilaka was given his prize money by 2021 Booker winner Damon Galgut, with whom he shared a heartfelt hug on stage, and other former winners soon lined up to congratulate the author.
Douglas Stuart, who won in 2020 with his novel Shuggie Bain, congratulated Karunatilaka on Twitter, saying: ‘Enormous congratulations to the fantastic Shehan Karunatilaka. Enjoy the ride!’
Bernardine Evaristo, who won in 2019 jointly with Margaret Atwood, attended the ceremony in person and tweeted afterwards: ‘Congrats to Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka! And what a night it was - the first in-person gathering of the @TheBookerPrizes in three years at London’s legendary @RoundhouseLDN.’
And pop star Dua Lipa, who spoke about her lifelong love of reading at the ceremony, said on Twitter that she ‘loved all of the shortlisted books without exception but special congratulations to Shehan Karunatilaka for winning with his remarkable novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’.