Sri Lankan novel Shehan Karunatilaka wins Booker Prize

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The Booker Prize 2022, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world, has been awarded to The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan writer also known for his rock songs, screenplays and travelogues. The novel, Karunatilaka’s second, is a satire based on war-torn Sri Lanka, surrounding the life of a war photographer who goes on a journalistic mission to his afterlife. Karunatilaka will receive £50,000 in prize money.

The ceremony took place at the Roundhouse, a popular concert hall in London, in the presence of Camilla, the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom, and singer-songwriter Dua Lipa.

Britain’s Queen Camilla poses with winner Shehan Karunatilaka for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida during the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction awards ceremony, in London, Britain October 17, 2022. (REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool )

After winning the award, Karunatilaka said, “My hope for [Seven Moons] is this: that in the not too distant future, it is read in a Sri Lanka that has understood that the ideas of corruption, racial baiting and clientelism have not worked and will never work. I hope it will be read in a Sri Lanka that learns from its stories and that this book will be in the fantasy section of a bookstore and not be mistaken for realism or political satire.

This year’s judges were cultural historian and panel chair Neil MacGregor, scholar Shahidha Bari, historian Helen Castor, critic M John Harrison and writer Alain Mabanckou. They read 169 submissions.

MacGregor, before announcing the award, said, “We believe each of our shortlisted books would be a worthy winner. Differently, each of them asks the same question: what is the ultimate value of an individual life? Our chosen book takes readers on a horrifying yet humorous journey beyond life and beyond death to the dark heart of the world. And there, in a surprising and encouraging way, we find tenderness and laughter, loyalty and love.

The shortlist, announced on September 6, included its longest-serving author, Alan Garner (88) for Treacle Walker, and its shortest book, Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan, at 116 pages. The shortlist included three women and three men, representing five countries and four continents. Each shortlist received a specially bound copy of their book, as well as £2,500 each. Other shortlisted books were Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo; Percival Everett’s Trees; The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka; and Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout.

The long list, announced on July 26, featured its youngest writer, Leila Mottley (20), for her debut novel Nightcrawling, based on an actual sexual abuse incident in California, United States. It also featured two other debuts, After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz and Maps of our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer.

The Booker Prize is awarded annually to a book published in English in the UK or Ireland. The International Booker Prize – its 2022 edition won by Geetanjali Shree for his Hindi novel, Tomb of Sand, the first Indian-language work to win the prize – is awarded to a translation work published in the same territories. He is known for revolutionizing winners’ careers, with Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Margaret Atwood and the late Hilary Mantel among many others becoming household names after their awards.

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