Who is Shehan Karunatilaka?

In 2022, Shehan Karunatilaka became the second Sri Lankan author to win the Booker Prize. What fetched his novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ the prestigious literary award?

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the prestigious Booker Prize 2022 for ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’. When it was announced, it was the overriding Breaking News of prime-time media. We got so genuinely excited about someone from our neighbouring country winning the prize that we decided to gather authentic information about him. Here's the information we put together.

About the novelist

The entire nation rose in jubilation when the prize was announced. We all know Shehan Karunatilaka only as a novelist, but he is much more than that- only in films do we find protagonists playing multiple roles, but in real life he dons several roles. He is a children's author, screenplay writer, travel writer, rock singer, music reviewer, copywriter, sports commentator, content writer, and much more. It's rare to come across someone with such rich experiences in varied fields.

The 47-year-old writer was born in Galle, a beautiful old city, situated on the southwestern tip of the island, about 115 km from Colombo. He grew up in Colombo, and that's where he lives now. But he has also lived and worked in the U.K., Singapore, Australia, and the Netherlands for different organisations in various capacities.

An interesting fact about the prize-winning novel is that it had two different versions published earlier – ‘Devil Dance’ and ‘Chats with the Dead’ and was eventually published with the current title in London in 2022.

The Booker Prize

The Booker Prize is considered prestigious as it accords international recognition to the winners and is one of the world's richest literary prizes, offering 50,000 pounds. It is given each year for the best novel written in English and published in the U.K. or Ireland. Three Indian writers – Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Aravind Adiga – have won the prize so far.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

The seven moons' has several mythological references, and in Greek myth, it is an expedition undertaken to reclaim the throne, and, in the novel, it refers to the 'seven days' of travel between the afterlife and the real world.

The name of the central character, Maali Almeida, is of Arabic origin, meaning 'rich hill’, referring to the topography of their country. The novelist perhaps chose to avoid any reference to Sri Lankan names as the novel is set against the backdrop of the war-torn country.

Maali Almeida is a war photographer who wakes up from his death and tries to identify his killer but with no idea of who did it. He holds a cache of photographs that captures the brutalities committed by various groups, including the military, which "will bring down governments" and wishes to show them to the people he loves most.

In his work, Karunatilaka combines the features of different genres of novels – mystery, surrealism, political satire, mythology, ghost story, history, comedy, fantasy, realism, and so on, and weaves all these strands skilfully to delight his readers.

Significantly, though the novel portrays the grim reality of our country it is not without hope and humour, which he believes are the coping mechanism to lead a sane life.

The lesson from his writings

The important lesson for us is that with the sensitivity to contemporary socio-political happenings and familiarity with different genres of novels, we could spin a story of some merit by employing imagination.

Picture Credit : Google 

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