The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Title: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.
Writer(s): Shehan Karunatilaka.
Publisher: Sort of Books.
Format: Digital.
Release Date: August 4th, 2022.
Pages: 406.
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy.
ISBN13: 9781908745903.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Despite humankind’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge, a desire to always obtain the absolute truth, it can also take the form of a deadly trap, an inescapable and mind-numbing abyss, difficult to grasp and far too elusive for the common mortal to handle. However harmful, however undesirable, it is without a doubt far more critical for one to be aware of the truth, to share it with the rest of the world, than to suffer through illusions, to content ourselves to a status quo where the wrong is left unpunished, to accept a reality where only the powerful dictate the rules by which humanity must follow without rebelling. Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2010 for his debut novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, is now the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize for this new stand-alone tale exposing an all-too-frustrating South Asian political landscape with an oddly healthy dose of wit, edge, and brutal honesty.

What is The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida about? Set in Sri Lanka, in the 1980s, the story follows war photographer Maali Almeida who wakes up in an unfamiliar and bizarre bureaucratic office only to realize that he’s now dead. Once informed of his peculiar predicament, he understands that his dismembered body is sinking somewhere in the Beira Lake but has no clue who killed him. He now has seven moons (one week) to accomplish his final deeds before his spirit is sent to eternity with The Light. Out traveling between the afterlife and the real world, he relentlessly seeks to demystify his own death but also unveil the truth through photographs he’s hidden from the world that should inevitably shake the political landscape in his home country for the better. Desperately seeking the help of the man and woman he loves most, this journey, with little time in his hand. will teach a lesson bigger than he could have ever imagined.

“One thing I’ve learned in a thousand moons: if it smells like bullshit, don’t swallow it.”

Shehan Karunatilaka

Written from the second-person perspective, a rare feat in itself, writer Shehan Karunatilaka delivers an eye-opening journey between life and death. Tossing readers into a world brimming with ghosts and demons straight out of Sri Lankan folk religion, the story brilliantly blends together magical realism and historical fiction while remaining a mystery thriller at its core. Effortlessly bringing to life the intricate afterlife system that allows the protagonist to navigate through the real world as a dead person, writer Shehan Karunatilaka also does an impressive job of introducing numerous side characters, all unveiling a bit more about the protagonist’s own journey of self-discovery, sometimes even offering guidance to Maali Almeida, at a cost, as he relentlessly pursues his final goals. While the hero of this tale remains a very cynical know-it-all through whom readers experience the author’s poignant political satire, it’s the engrossing prose highlighted by a diverse cast of characters and full of astonishing and terrifying facts about the terrors within his country that turns this whodunnit into an astonishing exposition of the brutalities of the Sri Lankan Civil war in the 1980s.

Despite a comic undertone, the central examination of morality in characters makes for a sharp and blatant denunciation of the rampant corruption of both the soul of individuals but also of Sri Lanka’s politics during that period. Although subtle and silent, the outcry within this prose is more often than felt on an intimate level, allowing readers to grasp the troubling state of the world but also the complexity of trying to navigate through it all. Writer Shehan Karunatilaka also does an impressive job of incorporating the protagonist’s own challenges of evolving within a world that is largely unable to tolerate homosexuality. The indirect yet profound discussion around secrecy and how it may be conceived as a double-edged sword is also noticeable within other subplots too. Although the resolution of this mystery thriller does seem abrupt by the end of the book, a bit diluted in the myriad of side characters and their own misadventures, this story is simultaneously powerful, mystical, political, and comical.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is an engaging, cynical, and mystical journey of self-discovery through the protagonist’s quest for justice and peace of mind in Sri Lanka back in the 80s amidst warfare and corruption.



22 thoughts on “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

  1. Great review and very interesting sounding book, Lashaan. I will keep it in mind. Magical realism seems all the rage in literature lately. Or maybe that is just my own impression, but many writers of historical fiction and literary fiction who write about social issues seem to turn towards speculative elements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeroen! It’s true that magical realism is a wonderful way to add something even more engaging to a story. When it’s well-researched and drawn from some sort of mythos, it’s something that really wins me over too. It’s probably also because it reminds me the fantasy genre and I’m always a sucker for SFF in general hahah

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard of Rushdie’s books, especially The Satanic Verses! He even made the news a couple months ago. Ever since learning about the author’s unique political situation, I wanted to try his stuff but never got around to it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Midnight’s Children when you get around to it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. I doubt I would have stumbled across this book if not for you. The idea of mixing magical realism and historical fiction into a mystery thriller with folk religion is really fascinating. And adding in that comedic undertone may help the author weave in the more serious commentary on society and politics without it feeling too preachy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to bring it to your radar, Todd. It’s quite an original and creative story that not only educates us on Sri Lankan politics and some of the tragedies from back in the day but it’s also done in such an approachable way with the humour and the myriad of characters.


  3. Wow! This one sounds very interesting – I am especially intrigued by the fact it draws on Sri Lankan folklore; I’m not familiar with that at all. The only thing holding me back is the second person perspective; I quite rarely like it but who knows? Maybe I’ll still give this book a go

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really like the sound of this one. And when done well, 2nd-person narration can be brilliant – I’m thinking of Hillary Mantell’s Thomas Cromwell series… Thank you for sharing this one – I’ll be checking it out:)).

    Liked by 1 person

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