The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka overview – life after dying in Sri Lanka

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Shehan Karunatilaka made a splash a decade in the past together with his debut novel Chinaman. Winner of the 2012 Commonwealth e-book prize and hailed as one of many nice Sri Lankan novels, it recounts the alcohol-soaked lifetime of a retired sports activities journalist who units out on a zany quest to trace down an incredible cricketer of the Eighties who has mysteriously gone lacking.

His Booker-longlisted state-of-the-nation satire, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, returns to Eighties Sri Lanka, and equally has a debauched protagonist. Maali, the son of a Sinhalese father and a burgher mom, is an itinerant photographer who loves his trusted Nikon digicam; a gambler in high-stakes poker; a homosexual man and an atheist. And firstly of the novel, he wakes up useless.

He thinks he has swallowed “foolish capsules” given to him by a good friend and is hallucinating. However no: he actually is useless, and seemingly locked in an underworld. It’s no Miltonian pandemonium; for him, “the afterlife is a tax workplace and everybody desires their rebate”. Different souls encompass him, with dismembered limbs and blood-stained garments; and they’re incapable of forming an orderly queue to get their types stuffed in. Lots of the folks he meets on this bleakly quotidian panorama are victims of the violence that plagued Sri Lanka within the 80s, together with a Tamil college lecturer who was gunned down for criticising militant separatist group the Tamil Tigers. The novel additionally depicts the victims of Marxist group the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna , or Folks’s Liberation get together, who equally waged an rebel in opposition to the Sri Lankan authorities, and killed many leftwing and working-class civilians who bought of their method.

Maali is a witness to the brutality of the insurrections in Sri Lanka. Working for newspapers and magazines, his ambition is to take pictures “that may carry down governments. Photographs that would cease wars.” He has shot “the federal government minister who seemed on whereas the savages of ’83 torched Tamil properties and slaughtered the occupants”, and brought “portraits of disappeared journalists and vanished activists, sure and gagged and useless in custody”.

These photographs are saved beneath a mattress in his household residence. Now, caught within the underworld, he has solely seven moons – one week – to get in touch together with his good friend Jaki and her cousin, persuade them to retrieve the stash of photographs, and share them all through Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest metropolis, with a view to expose the profoundly violent nature of the battle. It’s defined to Maali that “each soul is allowed seven moons to wander the In Between. To recall previous lives. After which, to neglect. They need you to neglect. As a result of, if you neglect, nothing adjustments.” Maali doesn’t need his contribution as a witness to be consigned to oblivion. His personal dying has viscerally uncovered to him the fragility of life, and the photographs represent his legacy for his nation and a defence in opposition to collective amnesia.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is written within the second individual, which supplies the narrative a barely distancing impact, however it’s compensated for by the sardonic humour. In a single passage, the narrator muses: “You’ve gotten one response for many who imagine Colombo to be overcrowded: wait until you see it with ghosts.” One other asks: “Do animals get an afterlife? Or is their punishment to be reborn as human?” One other compelling characteristic is the vivid use of similes: one man’s battered physique is described as having ribs caved in “like a damaged coconut”.

The plain literary comparisons are with the magical realism of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. However the novel additionally recollects the mordant wit and surrealism of Nikolai Gogol’s Useless Souls or Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Grasp and Margarita. The situations are sometimes absurd – useless our bodies bicker with one another – however executed with a humour and pathos that floor the reader. Beneath the literary prospers is a real and terrifying actuality: the carnage of Sri Lanka’s civil wars. Karunatilaka has carried out creative justice to a horrible interval in his nation’s historical past.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka is revealed by Type Of (£16.99). To assist the Guardian and the Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply expenses could apply.


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