Shehan Karunatilaka’s ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ wins 2022 Booker Prize

A man with gray hair and a beard and blond woman, both in formalwear, gripping a gold trophy
Camilla, Queen Consort of Britain, presents author Shehan Karunatilaka with the 2022 Booker Prize for “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” at the Roundhouse in London.
(Toby Melville / Associated Press)

“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Shehan Karunatilaka won the 2022 Booker Prize on Monday at the Roundhouse in London.

Camilla, the newly appointed Queen Consort of Britain, handed the trophy to Karunatilaka, while last year’s Booker Prize winner, Damon Galgut, presented the author with 50,000 pounds in prize money. BBC News Channel and BBC World News broadcast coverage of the ceremony.

Published by independent imprint Sort of Books, “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” centers on a war photographer who dies during the Sri Lankan civil war; his spirit must guide his living loved ones to uncover a hidden collection of photos. Karunatilaka is the second Sri Lankan-born author to win the Booker Prize following Michael Ondaatje, who won for “The English Patient” in 1992.

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Karunatilaka won the Commonwealth Book Prize for his debut novel, “Chinaman,” in 2011. He has also written rock songs, travel stories and screenplays.

In a recent Q&A for the Booker Prizes website, Karunatilaka said he began thinking about writing his sophomore novel in 2009, “when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was” after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.

“A ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective seemed a bizarre enough idea to pursue, but I wasn’t brave enough to write about the present,” Karunatilaka explained. “So I went back 20 years, to the dark days of 1989.”

After a few years of virtual ceremonies, the 42nd Los Angeles Times Book Prizes was held in person Friday at USC, kicking off the Festival of Books.

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After the winner of this year’s Booker Prize was announced, the chair of the 2022 judges panel, Neil MacGregor, said in a statement that “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” was admired for the “ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques.”

“This 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 said.

“It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ’the world’s dark heart’ — the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.”

The finalists for the Booker Prize, which in recent years has been open to any book published in English within the current or former British Commonwealth, included “Glory,” by Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo; “Small Things Like These,” by Ireland’s Claire Keegan; “Treacle Walker,” by English novelist Alan Garner; and two books by American authors: “Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout and “The Trees,” by USC professor and novelist Percival Everett.


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During Monday’s ceremony, pop sensation and keynote speaker Dua Lipa spoke about her love of reading and credited inaugural International Booker Prize winner Ismail Kadare with helping her explore her “family’s heritage and identity as Kosovan Albanians.”

“I often wonder if authors realize just how many gifts they give us,” Lipa said during her speech. “Touring commitments take me all over the globe and life is often hectic. Sometimes, just to survive, I need to adopt a tough exterior. And at these times, it is books that soften me.”

Hot off his Booker Prize win, Karunatilaka will appear Thursday at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of this year’s London Literature Festival.