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Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka wins Booker Prize

October 18, 2022

Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize for "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida," a political satire about Sri Lanka's decadeslong civil war.

2022 Booker prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka
The Booker prize is one of the most pretigious literary awards in the worldImage: David Parry/empics/picture alliance

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the Booker Prize on Monday for his novel, "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida."

Karunatilaka accepted the award at a ceremony in London, saying he hoped the book would be read in a Sri Lanka that "learns from its stories."

What is the award-winning book about?

Karunatilaka's book is set in the 1990s and is about a gay photographer who wakes up dead during the country's civil war.

Maali Almeida then has seven moons to reach out to loved ones who can find his pictures that document the atrocities of the civil war.

Neil MacGregor, chair of the judges for this year, said the book is a "metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west." 

MacGregor added the book was an entirely "philosophical romp" and won because of "the ambition, the scope and the skill, the daring, the audacity and the hilarity of the execution."

Karunatilaka, who won 50,000 pounds ($57,000; €57,875) in prize money along with the award, said he hoped that his book would be found in the "fantasy section of the bookshop and will... not be mistaken for realism or political satire."

The Sri Lankan author accepted his award from Camilla, the Queen consort. Karunatilaka's prize-winning book was published by Sort of Books, which is an independent British publishing house.

Who is Shehan Karunatilaka?

Karunatilaka was born in Galle in southwestern Sri Lanka in 1975, and grew up in capital Colombo. He has written for many international publications and lived and worked in London, Amsterdam and Singapore.

He lives in Colombo today and cites Kurt Vonnegut, Nick Hornby and William Goldman as among his favourite authors.

The Sri Lankan writer first gained literary attention a decade ago, with his debut novel Chinaman in 2011.

The Booker Prize

The shortlist for this year's Booker Prize award also included British author Alan Garner's "Treacle Walker," Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo's "Glory" and American author Percival Everett's "The Trees." 

Earlier this year, Geetanjali Shree won the International Booker Prize for her Hindi-language novel "Tomb of Sand." 

It was the first book in any Indian language to clinch the prize, which honors international translated fiction. She was picked from a shortlist that included five women authors.

rm/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP)