Winner of the 2022 Booker Prize. Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida—war photographer, gambler, and closet queen—has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers, and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.
By striking contrast, and even if the title promises book-club exotica, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is preternaturally irreverent about the manifold brutalities in Sri Lanka during its 26-year civil war ... Karunatilaka’s novel breaks with conventional modes of storytelling to reveal humanness in a strange, sprawling, tragic situation ... Karunatilaka’s book is supremely confident in its literary heterodoxy, and likewise in offering idiosyncratic particularities of ordinary Sri Lankan life well beyond the serious matters of politics, history, religion and mythology ... But readers everywhere will find in such demanding specificity what we all seek from great books: the exciting if overwhelming fullness of an otherwise unknown world told on its own terms, and that frisson of unexpected identification and understanding that comes from working to stay in it.
For months, I’d been hearing tantalizing, impossibly incongruous details about this novel, which is only now being published in the United States. It’s all true: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a murder mystery and a zany comedy about military atrocities ... Weird and weirdly moving ... 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.
Written in the second person, which gives the narrative a slightly distancing effect, but it’s compensated for by the sardonic humour ... The obvious literary comparisons are with the magical realism of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. But the novel also recalls the mordant wit and surrealism of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls or Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The scenarios are often absurd – dead bodies bicker with each other – but executed with a humour and pathos that ground the reader. Beneath the literary flourishes is a true and terrifying reality: the carnage of Sri Lanka’s civil wars. Karunatilaka has done artistic justice to a terrible period in his country’s history.