The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida   Shehan Karunatilaka


historical fiction  |  booker prize winner  |  satire

First published 2020

book cover of the seven moons of maali almeida, colourful face mask with the title written over the top in white letters.

Maali Almeida is a photographer, a gambler, a gay man and an atheist who wakes up dead at the beginning of the novel. He has been given seven moons to work out who killed him, and why, before he can "enter the light". He finds himself in a kind of underworld with an assortment of very different souls who wander around this "pergatory" with missing limbs and blood-stained clothes. Many of these other lost people are victims of the violence perpetrated by the various warring factions involved in Sri Lanka's Civil War which began in the early 1980s. 

Maali works for newspapers, magazines, NGOs and government officials, using his trusty Nikon camera to capture the brutatlity of the insurgencies plaging Sri Lanka at the time. The photos he has taken include those of government ministers looking on as innocent civilians are slaughtered, portraits of disappeared journalists and activists, and the dead bodies of children murdered by extremists on all sides. These photos, he hopes, could change the course of the conflict, and bring justice and peace to his country.

The original prints of these photos are kept under a bed in his family home, and with only seven moons left, Maali must try to get in contact with his friend Jaki to try to retrieve them and share them throughout Colombo. He wants to expose the violent nature of the conflict, bring the truth of the war to the forefront of everyone's minds and reveal the brutality and corruption of the various groups involved.

My Verdict: Written in the second person, it's almost as if we are telling Maali his own story back to him. Filled with satire and using sardonic humour, this book manages to use magical realism to vividly describe the carnage and reality of Sri Lanka's civil wars. Ghosts walk around the cities, floating around on rooftops and carrying out terrorist attacks as revenge for their own, untimely deaths. Maali's own death brings into sharp focus, for himself, the fragility of life; especially one where everyone must try to pick a side and hope that they pick the right one. 

This was an absolutely incredible book, and definitely the best of 2023 so far. Karunatilaka has made a book about the loss of hope and finding redemption in the face of such loss. Like his hero, Kurt Vonnegut, Karunatilaka can view tragedy through a lens of the absurd and comic, blending metaphor and similes to first break your heart and then make you laugh out loud, all in the space of one sentence. It's a book that makes you think and ask moral and theological questions of yourself and the world, reaching beyond politics and the question of what is evil. A well deserved winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction 2022.

Review Award | 5/5

Posted 13.03.2023

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