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The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

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The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

As seen:

  • The Booker Prize Longlist 2022

By Shehan Karunatilaka

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10 reviews

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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.
Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet queen, has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. At a time when scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long.
But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to try and contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will rock Sri Lanka.

Reviews

01 Nov 2022

Annette

"Evil is not what we should fear.Creatures with power acting in their own interest: that is what should make us shudder." says Shehan Karunatilaka in this brutal, bizzare & humorous novel set in SriLanka. It gives an eye-opening taste of unseen Sri Lanka & the many atrocities committed during the civil war which could have made for sombre reading. However, as the narrator is a ghost (a useful storytelling device, it turns out) and the author has a sense of humour and knows how to write well it manages to be a readable and strangely believable book with a very witty view of the afterlife.

08 Oct 2022

sararebekahdavis@gmail.com

The idea is interesting but it was a bit laboured and confusing.

06 Oct 2022

mutays

This book was an interesting but challenging read.

It feels as though the author purposefully detaches the reader from Maali to reflect the way Maalia has been detached from the living. The constant shifts in timelines and narratives makes the book feel disjointed but this seems intentional to the greater message of the book which I am still yet to grasp.

It’s interesting how the political climate running through the book can be ignored, the same way in which we often disassociate from politics in our own lives and continue to trudge along. Further explanations would be helpful to have a more holistic understanding.

In conclusion, it would be difficult to reach for this book again but I would definitely reference book for examples of exploration of death, magic and mythology.

06 Oct 2022

lyzalawal

While the concept of this book is strong, unfortunately, the structure and pace of the story take away from it. Basing the world-building on Sri Lankan civil war and the fantasy elements tied to Asian culture that we do not see as much in Western Media gave it a unique edge. The MC being queer was another remarkable aspect of the story, to understand how being Queer in that time, culture and environment were refreshing. This is one of the unique portrayals of the afterlife/death I have seen for a long time.

However, while the author had a strong concept, the delivery was not so great. It was very scattered, and it was hard to follow when they were in the after-life space and when they entered the real world or when it was a simple flashback. The constant jumping made it hard to follow and, at one point, gave me a headache.

Nevertheless, the concept and main story drew me in from the first read; I struggled to connect to this throughout the book. I did enjoy the historical explanations and the diving into socio-cultural discussions touching on White privilege, homophobia and sexism. I might give this another try shortly, but for now, this book fell short for me.

06 Oct 2022

annicea

The concept of this book is captivating and thought-provoking. I love the idea of exploring the afterlife and what that could look like, and Karunatilaka's depiction of it is unique and interesting. I love the idea of having people at desks controlling the afterlife, for example, or the way the afterlife is depicted as having people walking around in the state they died (a harrowing image but captivating idea). I also like the way we are put straight into the "thick of it" and more and more about the protagonist and their life is revealed as we read.

However, it was a slow and hard read for me -- I found myself having to re-read things a few times to understand or only being able to digest the book in small bits and I found things messy/all over the place at times. I would attribute to the constant narrative shifts, which although I can get the reasoning behind, in practice were a hindrance rather than positive addition to this novel. I also felt I lacked feeling any character connection, even if that be of dislike.

Although a book that fell short for me in ways, such as those mentioned above, an interesting take and exploring of the afterlife, with vivid imagery and an overall vivid way of writing which I enjoyed, and I enjoyed exposure to a political climate and history I am not very familiar with, too.

06 Oct 2022

mcdarling666

I particularly enjoyed the author’s take on afterlife to be set as a bureaucratic dystopia and found the text to be quite informational and insightful on Sri Lankan history of civil war and ethnic cleansing. It was a bit difficult to read due to the constant switching from past to present on the narrators end, but it could be argued that in context of the protagonist’s search to find his murderer it would make sense to have a narrative that goes back and forth to make sense of the incident. In conclusion, I think any book written by non-western authors through a non-western lens can only positively contribute to the literary pool.

06 Oct 2022

esosao

Extremely unique and captivating in its concept, Karunatilaka's ambition is palpable in the writing of this novel. I was immediately drawn in with the world-building and loved the initial mystery and intrigue in the beginning of the book, but this quickly burned out for me as I struggled to build a connection with the protagonist. The character felt underdeveloped and there was a definite lack of intimacy between the reader and main character - perhaps the second-person perspective contributed to this detachment. I felt the political landscape was hard to navigate as someone unfamiliar with the novel's social context and could have benefitted from more explicit explanations. I also struggled to finish this book and found myself getting distracted and having to go back over certain parts and found it lacking in direction - however I did enjoy the whimsical writing and the peculiar atmosphere of the book and loved this fresh new take on life after death.

06 Oct 2022

rolakeosabia

Bursting with life (and death), The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is an amalgamation of speculative fiction, historical fiction and mystery. The protagonist, Maali Almeida, is a gay photographer and self-described ‘gambler and slut’. Seven Moons is conceptually intriguing since the protagonist wakes up dead in a purgatorial afterlife, intent on remembering how he died and connecting with his loved ones on the other side. It is an action-packed and politically-oriented novel which draws on 1980s Sri Lankan political history. Shehan Karunatilaka references real people and events and describes real photographs.

He narrates the novel from a captivating point of view using a second perspective, but it’s hard to build a connection with the main protagonist due to the persistent and quick narrative shifts. Karunatilaka writes using episodic vignettes, going back and forth between the past and present - this is often a jarring reading experience.

Overall, the writing and concept are solid, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Whilst I admire the ambition, it is slightly overambitious due to the overpopulated cast of characters and the simultaneous use of magical realism and political commentary. Sometimes, the protagonist's introspective voice flows into the story, but the chaotic plot disrupts this.

06 Oct 2022

indiachamb

The premise of this book is brilliant. We’ve all seen/read/heard various portrayals of the afterlife and could probably list the points that any given story teller would typically touch on. But Shehan instead pulls on a wealth of buddhist mythological heritage in order to explore the afterlife in a way that I haven’t personally seen before. This was extremely refreshing.

The opening scene really reminded me of The Good Place -the hotel like check-in area for new arrivals, the confusion of newly dead people, check-in staff that are totally over having to go through this same thing day in day out. I loved the idea that all dead arrivals must now exist in the outfits they died in. The chaos of the opening scenes provided so much food for thought. Between - Mothers arriving missing sons and being reminded to feel grateful because they didn’t die alongside them and an old man who in earnest expected nothing of the afterlife and is disappointed with it’s realities - I was instantly hooked.

It’s a shame that the Sri Lankan politics and some of the mythology felt overwhelming at times. I’m typically a huge fan of books that are unashamed about their exposure of specific political, cultural and historical heritages but in this instance it felt quite sprawling and inaccessible at times. This might be because I was reading it under a time pressure and couldn’t dedicate hours at a time to read and research in tandem. But I found myself wanting to know more about all of the things mentioned and just didn’t have the time to check each detail out. Despite this I was able to get a general sense of the arguments being explored but I did feel I was taken out of the narrative every time I came to a line or section that explored this. I found that these could have been edited ever so slightly to provide a couple more access points for readers not familiar with the political climate. In the same breath - I really enjoyed that the author didn’t dumb down any of these moments and I’d say this was probably successful in that I now want to go and do my own research. Also I feel like the author was trying to invoke chaos and this was successful in doing just that. I never knew that Sri Lanka had such a high rate of suicide and I didn’t understand the level of police corruption and my interest has been piqued and I can go and look into this.

It felt its most ‘unputdownable’ in the moments when Maali is watching his friends interact in the wake of his death. In particular the scene when Maali looks down on DD talking about all the things he plans to do to ensure that justice is served was my favourite. Maali knows his friend and knows that this is just him getting caught up in the moment. It made me laugh and had me really considering if i’d want to be able to see my friends in the wake of death, particularly if I couldn’t instantly communicate with them. The narration felt particularly strong in the moments when Maali is looking down on DD and Jake and I loved the exploration of his relationship with both his lover and his bestfriend/‘beard’.

I loved the self deprecating humour and thought that the author painted a clear and full picture of his protagonist. ‘Maali Almeida Photographer. Gambler. Slut.’ What an interesting, nuanced, brutally honest and morally grey character. He’s complex, flawed and always up for a good time. What more can you ask for from a character? I really did enjoy his character and this was one of the things that made me push on reading despite some of the difficulties I found. Again, I personally felt that the second person narration took me out of the narrative at times - this in addition to the episodic nature of the narrative confused me. I wasn’t always clear who we were following and why, but again, this could just be a me problem because of the speed I was attempting to read it at.

I really like the idea that even in death, time is of the essence. The Seven Moon structure was useful for reorienting in the narrative and I loved that Maali couldn’t immediately learn how to whisper to the living. I thought that the pacing was pretty strong and that tension was expertly built at points but I did loose steam about 1/2 through the narrative.

The women with the burnt sari’s anger made me feel really uncomfortable and I really did begin to think of all the ways that photography is both necessary but extremely problematic. Without someone documenting these things we wouldn’t know or be able to seek justice in a number of cases but often Maali takes pictures of things that could have perhaps been avoided if a bystander stepped in. The descriptions of the victims of war and the various ghosts that maali meet are haunting and these are the moments where reality and fiction blend and the underlying humour really shines.

This is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination - it’s a book that makes you work! It wasn’t personally for me and I don’t think it would be the first book I’d recommend BUT in the right context I’d definitely suggest someone gives it a go.

I’m finding it hard to sum this up succinctly and I’m aware that this review is a little all over the place. In reviewing it i’m realising there were so many things about this that I enjoyed despite the things I really didn’t enjoy. There were some amazing concepts explored and some one liners that made me gasp. My book is heavily hi-lighted and dog-eared but it’s not one I can see myself dipping back in to at any time.

06 Oct 2022

lucietw

This book felt a little chaotic to begin so it was very hard for me to get into, started and read about 20 pages and took a long time to pick it up again. Very descriptive and clear imagery which made it easier to understand all the things happening however I did think it was a little too busy but once I actually got into it I did really enjoy.

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