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Published on: 12/8/22 6:19 AM

Book review: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

And what did I make of the 2022 Booker-prizewinner The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (Penguin Books) by Shehan Karunatilaka, you ask.

Well, I came to it with heightened anticipation because I had really liked his debut novel of a decade ago, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, which went on to win the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. In that book, he had deftly taken up and intertwined two ropes, that of Sri Lankan cricket  and Sri Lankan politics,  and made of it a moving story.

Satire with ghosts

Set in 1989, The Seven Moons… is a gripping ghost story, populated with other-worldly beings who had had ghastly things done to them in the name of the terrible war that wreaked havoc on the Emerald Isle for 26 long and miserable years. At the epicentre of this sinister world is our protagonist Malinda (Maali)  Almeida, war photographer/gambler/dissolute homosexual, one who develops a conscience late in life but a conscience nevertheless. Alive or dead, he wants his photographs to `stop the war.` The reader winces at his naivete but lauds his intent.

There are unmissable touches of Dante and of Milton, in this book. The carnage wreaked by the LTTE, the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), the Lankan government, and yes our own IPKF too, all `prolific producers of corpses,`  are presented to the reader impartially.  The ghosts, monsters, ghouls, narakas, pretas,  make for a compelling collection of `people` with a past, (Slain Journalists, Defiled Beauty Queens, Murdered Housewives, Victims of Bombs, Child Soldiers, et al) and their ferocious desire to wreak revenge on their butchers, who still walk the earth in human form, is most understandable. Wrongs must be remembered, states Maali, otherwise your murderers will walk free. Descriptions of what is happening or has happened to the ordinary woman/man/child on the street (the ones who are silent seethers), the ten students burned on tyres in Malabe, the planter tied to a tree with his entrails, are equally savage.

Do read this book for the creativity of the satirical plot, the lovely relationship between Maali and the two people closest to him, for descriptions of the Mahakali, for the very real cynicism about many of the manipulators in the war still hale and hearty, and without a conscoence. Karunatilaka is a very good writer and so this book makes for a good read, despite the fact that it sags under flab in some parts, is overly self-indulgent in others.

ghost storyIPKFJVPLanka war storyLTTEPenguin BooksShehan KarunatilakaSr LankaThe Seven Moons of Maali Almediavictims of the Lankan war

Sheila Kumar • December 8, 2022

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