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Sri Lanka’s Karunatilaka wins Booker Prize

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka has won the 2022 Booker Prize with his novel The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida.

October 18, 2022
By Jill Lawless
18 October 2022

Writer Shehan Karunatilaka won the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, a satirical “afterlife noir” set during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war.

Karunatilaka, one of Sri Lanka’s leading authors, won the Stg50,000 ($A90,000) award for his second novel. 

The 47-year-old, who has also written journalism, children’s books, screenplays and rock songs, is the second Sri Lanka-born Booker Prize winner, after Michael Ondaatje, who took the trophy in 1992 for The English Patient.

Karunatilaka received the award from Camilla, Britain’s queen consort, during a ceremony on Monday at London’s Roundhouse concert hall.

The judges’ unanimous choice, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is the darkly humorous story about a deceased war photographer investigating his death and trying to ensure his life’s legacy.

Former British Museum director Neil MacGregor, who chaired the judging panel, said judges chose the book for “the ambition, the scope and the skill, the daring, the audacity and the hilarity of the execution.”

“It’s a book that takes the reader on a rollercoaster journey through life and death, right to what the author describes as the dark heart of the world,” MacGregor said. 

“And there the reader finds to their surprise, joy, tenderness, love and loyalty.”

The winner was chosen over five other finalists: American authors Percival Everett for The Trees and Elizabeth Strout for Oh William!; Glory by Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo; Irish writer Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These; and Treacle Walker by British writer Alan Garner.

The five-member jury read 170 novels before choosing a winner. MacGregor said all the books explored the actions of individuals in a world “where fixed points are moving, disintegrating”.

He said “what’s striking in all of them is the weight of history” – from the legacy of racism in the United States to colonialism and repression in Zimbabwe – and how that shaped the choices and actions of individuals.

Founded in 1969, the Booker Prize has a reputation for transforming writers’ careers. It was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers but eligibility was expanded in 2014 to all novels in English published in the UK.

Last year’s winner was The Promise, by South Africa’s Damon Galgut.

The event was the first fully in-person Booker ceremony since the pre-pandemic event in 2019 and the first for longtime literacy champion Camilla since her husband became King Charles III last month after the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

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