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Shehan Karunatilaka wins Booker Prize for ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’

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

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 14, 2022 Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka holds his book ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ during a photocall at the Shaw Theatre in King’s Cross in London, ahead of Monday’s announcement of the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction. Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka won the prestigious British Booker Prize on October 17, 2022 evening for his novel “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida”, a biting satire set in the civil war that shook his country. The literary prize was awarded in the presence of Queen Consort Camilla, during a face-to-face ceremony for the first time since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

Mr. Karunatilaka, one of Sri Lanka’s leading authors, won the 50,000 pound ($57,000) 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.”

Mr. Karunatilaka received the award from Camilla, Britain’s queen consort, during a ceremony 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 Weight of History

The five-member jury read 170 novels before choosing a winner. Mr. 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 shapes the choices and actions of individuals.

“History as a player in contemporary politics is, I think, one of the things that emerges from most of the shortlist books,” Mr. MacGregor said. “Which is hardly surprising, given the current debates about history.”

“All these books show why it (history) has to be taught, addressed and discussed — because otherwise we can’t understand the framework within which people have to make the big choices, the essential choices, of their lives,” he said.

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 U.K. 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.

The event also included a speech from singer-songwriter Dua Lipa about her love of reading, and a reflection from writer Elif Shafak on what the attack on novelist Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed onstage in August, means for writers around the world.

Thank you Le Monde with AP and AFP

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