“All stories are recycled and all stories are unfair. Many get luck, and many get misery. Many are born to homes with books, many grow up in the swamps of war. In the end, all becomes dust. All stories conclude with a fade to black.”
“I was there to witness. That is all. All those sunrises and all those massacres existed because I filmed them. Now, they are as dead as me.”
“Monsoons and full moons make all creatures stupid, especially silly boys in love.”
I’m still working my way through the 2022 Booker Longlist, and I finally got my hands on the winner. Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (W.W. Norton & Company 2022) was well-deserving of the prestigious award. While it may not have been my favorite of the bunch (Glory and Trust remain my top selections), it certainly comes close.
The novel is told in second person, a choice that is not only perfect for this ghost story, but is brilliantly executed. The novel is also unapologetically cheeky (with Maali as your lead how could it not be?) while also devastatingly brutal as it chronicles the Sri Lankan civil war. I read a review that mentioned Patrick Swayze’s Ghost and that’s an easy reference point that will quickly give readers from the western world an idea of the plot. I’d say it’s All Dogs Go to Heaven meets Ghost meets Sri Lanka – and it’s near perfect.
Maali is (or was) a photographer, chronicling the atrocities within his country and selling them to the highest bidder. He pledged no allegiance and pled the neutrality of a journalist when questioned. A gambler with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to his parents, Maali has a love of pretty boys and isn’t exactly the most faithful of lovers. From behind his camera, he has captured atrocity after atrocity. And his pictures are reason enough for someone to want him dead. But who did it? Who killed Maali and how can he exact revenge?
Maali has seven moons to find out who killed him and get his photographs in the hands of his best friend and her pretty boy cousin he’d loved the only way he could love. The photographs have the potential to shine a light on Sri Lanka so bright that the rest of the world can’t just ignore it as they have been. While he struggles to remember the events leading up to his death, he meets a fellow ghost who can whisper to the living. But it comes at a cost, and a battle ensues over Maali’s soul during the seven days he’s been given to sort it out before going to The Light or joining Mahakali, the goddess of death and destruction.
It’s a beautiful novel about a beautiful boy who became a beautiful ghost and never stopped bearing witness.
(As of today’s date, homosexuality remains criminalized in Sri Lanka. The government as recently as yesterday has stated they will support decriminalization and have encouraged introduction of a bill to that end.)
Booker count: 11 of 13