Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka is on Booker Longlist 2022: What you need to know

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaJul 27, 2022 | 13:34

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka is on Booker Longlist 2022: What you need to know

Shehan Karunatilaka is shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2022 for his novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

This year’s longlist for the Booker Prize is out with Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka securing a spot with his satirical novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. The former Commonwealth Booker winner might just have a shot at winning if the Booker jury considers his past or the current crisis within his native country. 

Given the history of the Booker Prize, it used to limit its global reach only to authors who were citizens of Britain and the British Commonwealth nations. It was only in 2014 that the scope was expanded to English-language novels from any part of the world. 


Diversity of the longlist: Even though most of the prize’s recent winners are from the US or UK, the Booker jury might score some diversity brownie points this year with a diverse longlist. Popularly known as the “Booker’s Dozen”, the list of 13 books also includes six Americans, two authors from Britain and Ireland each, one Argentine, and one Zimbabwean.

The Booker Longlist this year features 13 books. Take a look:

  • Audrey Magee, The Colony 
  • Selby Wynn Schwartz, After Sappho 
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, Glory 
  • Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These 
  • Leila Mottley, Nightcrawling
  • Maddie Mortimer, Maps of our Spectacular Bodies 
  • Graeme Macrae Burnet, Case Study 
  • Alan Garner, Treacle Walker 
  • Percival Everett, The Trees 
  • Hernan Diaz, Trust
  • Shehan Karunatilaka, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
  • Elizabeth Strout, Oh William! 
  • Karen Joy Fowler, Booth 

The shortlist is yet to be announced on September 6 but Karunatalika might still have a chance at securing a spot.

The novel and its political context: “Shehan Karunatilaka’s rip-roaring epic is a searing, mordantly funny satire set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war”, that is how The Booker 2022 Jury describes The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida


The civil war mentioned here is obviously the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations in the island nation. Starting from 1986 as a response against anti-Tamil pogroms, the militant organisation LTTE sprung up as a response in a war that continued till the 2000s. Incorporating elements of magical realism in this turbulent context, Karunatilaka writes about the afterlife of the book’s titular protagonist. 

Screengrab from the video showcasing the longlisted books (source- The Booker Prizes)
Screengrab from the video showcasing the longlisted books (source- The Booker Prizes)

Closeted war photographer Maali Almeida is dead but faces the deadline of seven moons to get closure from the man (and the woman) he loves and give them a hidden collection of photos that might change the socio-political establishments of Sri Lanka. With such an ambitious premise, the author has managed to draw rave reviews. 

The collective statement of the Booker judges even went on to describe the novel as “an afterlife noir, with nods to Dante and Buddha and yet unpretentious”.

Current Sri Lankan politics: Given the current social, political and economic crisis of Sri Lanka, the novel is all the more relevant. A reminder of the country’s past conflicts, it is only unfortunate that the author’s home seethes with trouble yet again. Much of the 2022 protests were targeted against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (a Sinhala by ethnicity) who has been previously accused of war crimes, corruption, and human rights violations against several Tamil protestors. 


So, if the Booker jury just wishes to get good PR by awarding a book with a political undertones by a politically active author from a politically turbulent country, then The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida does have a shot at not only making it to the shortlist but also bagging a win. 

Possibility of being second Sri Lankan Booker winner: If this indeed happens, then Karunatilaka would make history as the second Sri Lankan Booker Prize winner. The first time a Sri Lankan won the prize was with Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient in 1992. However, Ondaatje still retained a Canadian citizenshop and is largely considered as a Canadian-Sri Lankan writer. Representation from the country has anyway been limited with the only other Sri Lankan nominee being Anuk Arudpragasam whose A Passage North made it to last year’s shortlist. 

The writer’s past career and versatility: What works in Karunatilaka’s advantage is also his status as a Sri Lankan literary veteran. His debut 2010 novel Chinaman was so acclaimed that it went on to win the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Asia region and then also won the prize at the overall level. 

A man of many talents, the former advertising creative director also served as a bassist and songwriter for Sri Lankan rock groups such as Independent Square and Powercut Circus. 

He was also going to transition towards screenwriting with 800, a planned biopic of Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan. Even though Tamil superstar Vijay Sethupathi was slated to star in it, the actor backed out after some Tamilian groups claimed that Muralithiran wasn’t very sympathetic to the Tamil cause during the years of the war. Despite the film’s controversy, Karunatilaka’s global reputation has not been affected. 

And this reputation would only soar further if the jury indeed decides to go ahead with the book that they describe as “a broad, surreal vision of the Sri Lankan civil wars”. 

Last updated: October 18, 2022 | 03:20
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