I have been wanting to read The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka for a long time. Though I got the ARC in January, unfortunately, the universe conspired against me and kept me away from this gem of a book. I was able to read it just this month… after almost 2 months!!
This is the second book I have read that revolves around the civil unrest in Sri Lanka. I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai about two years ago. This coming-of-age story was narrated through the eyes of a 7-year-old child. Though both books have a common broad theme, the tone, narration, and treatment vary a lot.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, narrated by a ghost in the second person, is a profound story of heartbreaking events.
It is set in 1989, when Sri Lankans were facing civil unrest, insurgency, and military atrocities. The narration begins when Maali Almeida, a reckless photojournalist, realises he is no more alive. Along with many others like him, he is queueing up in an unknown place. Once he reaches the end of the long line, he is told he has seven moons before he can enter The Light.
Maali Alemida has less time and a lot of unfinished business before he can cross over to the other side. He has mysteries to solve. He has to ensure his hard work is not forgotten, seek forgiveness from his friends, and most of all, punish the ones responsible for his murder. Even though he is reduced to nothing but air, he wants to publish his secret collection of photographs. “Photos that will bring down governments.”
He is desperate to put his last week on earth to the best use. He flies around Colombo, seeing his friends and lover struggle with the reality of his demise. There are ghosts and demons on this journey. Some ghosts are friendly, while some want him destroyed.
Karunatilaka’s writing is magical. It is powerful and profound. He knows how to bring words to life. Writing a story almost 400 pages long in the second-person narrative is not a simple task.
The author has delved into deeply riveting themes. Atrocities of war, death, genocide, police inefficiency, political rivalries, Marxism, and military brutalities are the broader themes. He has deftly highlighted the other social evils of Sri Lankan society and woven them into the story with ease. Casteism, economic divide, social disparity, attitude toward homosexuality, and also the role of colonialists and its impact on natives find detailed mention.
The narrator’s deadpan humour and skilful narration make it easier to navigate through the graphic descriptions. The layered narrative and alternating voices of the dead and living bring the story to life.
The mythological elements and references lend a uniquely authentic voice to the story. I really enjoyed reading this book, despite the triggering themes. The novel is slightly repetitive. There is not much of a difference in the events between the last few moons, but the repetitiveness added to the impact and gravity of the situation.
Sharing a few quotes I loved.
You know what it’s like to not trust your own mind.
If it smells like bullshit, don’t swallow it. These wars aren’t worth dying over. None of them are.
Praying to God is like asking a car why it had to crash.
If you are old enough to kill, you are old enough to die.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Shivantha Wijesinha. His marvellous narration adds to the pathos of the novel. His tone, accent, and voice modulation are just perfect. I loved the manner in which he adapted his voice to suit the varied characters. Even though I listened to the book, I could “see” and “feel” the events.
I could go on and on about his style. Instead, I’ll just say… I loved everything about his narration. This is the first audiobook I thoroughly enjoyed.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a unique and effective blend of various genres. It is historical fiction, murder mystery, satire, political writing, and supernatural forces combined together.
It’s no surprise this book received the prestigious 2022 Booker Prize!
Wordsopedia Rating 4.5/5
|Title: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida||Author: Shehan Karunatilaka|
|Publisher: Bolinda Audio||Publication date: 10 Nov 2022|
|Genre: Fiction—Literary||Format: Audiobook|
|ISBN: NA||No. of Hours: 14 hours 17 minutes|
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About the author
Shehan Karunatilaka has published two novels and three children’s books, including Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, winner of the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, and The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, winner of the 2022 Booker Prize.
He’s also written features on sport, music and travel for The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Wisden, GQ, Conde Nast and National Geographic. He has over 20 years’ experience working for ad agencies, tech firms, media houses, start-ups and multinationals across Singapore, London, Colombo, Sydney and Amsterdam.
Get in touch with the author on his website.