The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize for fiction. The judges hailed “the ambition of his stature, and the hilarious audacity of his storytelling techniques”.
Karunatilaka’s second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, comes more than a decade after her debut, Chinaman, which was published in 2011. The Booker-winning novel tells the story of the photographer of its title, who in 1990 wakes up dead in what looks like a heavenly visa office. Without knowing who killed him, Maali has seven moons to contact the people he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos of civil war atrocities that will rock Sri Lanka.
Neil MacGregor, chairman of this year’s prize jury, said the novel was chosen because “it’s a book that takes the reader on a roller coaster ride through life and death until the author describes as the dark heart of the world”.
“And there the reader finds, to his great surprise, joy, tenderness, love and fidelity,” he added.
MacGregor was joined on the jury by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; novelist and critic Mr John Harrison; and novelist, poet and teacher Alain Mabanckou. The judges were unanimous in their decision to award the prize to Karunatilaka, according to the president.
This year, the original 1969 Booker Prize trophy was restored in memory of its creator, children’s author and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski, who died in February.
The trophy was presented to Karunatilaka by Camilla, Queen Consort, in one of her first official public engagements since taking on her new role, at a ceremony hosted by comedian Sophie Duker at the Roundhouse in London . Last year’s winner Damon Galgut presented Karunatilaka with his £50,000 prize.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is published by the independent press Sort of Books. This year is the first time that a book from the publisher has been selected for the award. Karunatilaka became the second Sri Lankan-born author to win, after Michael Ondaatje, who won in 1992 with The English Patient.
In his Guardian review, Tomiwa Owolade said that “the book’s storylines are often absurd…but executed with a humor and pathos that enliven the reader”. He added, “Karunatilaka has done artistic justice to a terrible time in his country’s history.
Karunatilaka, was born in Galle, Sri Lanka in 1975 and grew up in Colombo. Chinaman has won the Commonwealth Prize, the DSL Prize and the Gratiaen Prize, and has been shortlisted for the BBC and The Reading Agency’s Big Jubilee Read. The author has also written rock songs and screenplays.
Other books on the shortlist were Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, The Trees by Percival Everett, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout.
MacGregor said that although the six books on the shortlist were very different, “it became clear…they were all really about one question, and that’s ‘how important is an individual life? ?'”
Filmed excerpts from the shortlisted books, directed by Kevin Thomas and featuring Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jarvis Cocker, Anna Friel, David Harewood, Sharon Horgan and Prasanna Puwanarajah, were screened at the ceremony.
Singer-songwriter Dua Lipa gave a keynote about how her love of reading has helped her connect with her family and her identity. She said early obsessions included Roald Dahl and Malorie Blackman, “both of whom gave me little pearls of wisdom that still guide me today.”
Earlier this year, the singer launched a podcast titled At your service, with guests such as Hanya Yanagihara and Min Jin Lee. She said talking one-on-one with some of her favorite authors was “honestly better than any therapy session I’ve ever attended.”
The ceremony was broadcast as part of a 45-minute Front Row special on BBC Radio 4, where presenter Samira Ahmed interviewed British-Turkish author Elif Shafak about what the attack on Salman’s life Rushdie stands for writers around the world. The ceremony also honored Booker’s two-time winner Hilary Mantel, who died in September.