The hefty price of war and violence is paid with an impending sense of sorrow and carnage left behind in its wake. The atrocities do not exist in a vacuum but rather take a pervasive presence over the lives of whole communities. Srilankan author, Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel, ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ is a critique of war through a fictional lens.
By dealing with heavy socio-political themes that incorporate dark humour and satire, Karunatilaka examines the trauma of his country’s decades-long civil war with an engaging narrative; following a Sri Lankan war photographer who wakes up dead and dismembered in an underworld populated with victims of political violence. Blending mythology and folklore with politics and love, he uses ghosts as a narrative tool to expose the many nuances of the brutalities. The tale he tells takes one on a riveting journey through collaborating with vengeful, mythological spirits, aatmas, and pretas (ghosts) of the underworld. With no idea who killed him, Maali, the protagonist, has to contact his loved ones through the guide of seven moons, which will further lead them to a hidden cache of photographic evidence associated with the atrocities of the civil war. The novel also plays with political metaphors to call out the guardians of society for their hypocrisy.
The author recently won the Booker prize for fiction. As reported by the Guardian, Neil MacGregor, chair of the judges for this year’s prize, said the novel was chosen because “...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.”
Karunatilaka delivered his acceptance speech in Tamil and Sinhalese, to directly address the people of Sri Lanka and applaud the courage so deeply embedded in the community. In a recent interview, the writer was questioned as to why he gave the novel satirical themes, to which he explained, “Sri Lankan gallows humour, because we’ve been through a hell of a lot of catastrophes.” Karunatilaka takes into consideration the real faces of war and through the use of intentional themes of sarcasm and parody, commends the resilient spirit of his people.
Find the novel here.