Shehan Karunatilaka

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October 1, 2024 at 7:00PM ET

Location: Copley Formal Lounge

Join us for an evening with Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka, hosted by Tope Folarin, Lannan Creative Writing Visiting Lecturer.

Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made by September 24th to Patricia Guzman, 202-687-6294, A good faith effort will be made to fulfill requests made after September 24th.

Excerpt from The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Soon You Will Wake

It started ages ago, a thousand centuries ago, but let’s skip all those yesterdays and begin last Tuesday. It is a day you wake up hungover and empty of thought, which is true of most days. You wake up in an endless waiting room. You look around and it’s a dream and, for once, you know it’s a dream and you’re happy to wait it out. All things pass, especially dreams.

You are wearing a safari jacket and faded jeans and cannot remember how you got here. You wear one shoe and have three chains and a camera around your neck. The camera is your trusty Nikon 3ST, though its lens is smashed and its casing is cracked. You look through the viewfinder and all you see is mud. Time to wake up, Maali boy. You pinch yourself and it hurts, less like a short stab and more like the hollow ache of an insult.

You know what it’s like to not trust your own mind. That LSD trip at the Smoking Rock Circus in 1973, hugging an araliya tree in Vihara Maha Devi park for three hours. The ninety-hour poker marathon, where you won seventeen lakhs and then lost fifteen of them. Your first shelling in Mullaitivu 1984, stuffed in a bunker of terrified parents and screaming children. Waking in hospital, aged nineteen, not remembering your Amma’s face or how much you loathed it.

You are in a queue, shouting at a woman in a white sari seated behind a fibreglass counter. Who hasn’t been furious at women behind counters before? Certainly not you. Most Lankans are silent seethers, but you like to complain at the top of your lungs.

‘Not saying your fault. Not saying my fault. But mistakes happen, no? Especially in government offices. What to do?’

‘This is not a government office.’

‘I don’t care, aunty. I’m just saying, I can’t be here, I have photos to share. I’m in a committed relationship.’

‘I am not your aunty.’

You look around. Behind you, a queue weaves around pillars and snakes along the walls. The air is foggy though no one appears to be exhaling smoke or carbon dioxide. It looks like a car park with no cars or a market space with nothing to sell. The ceiling is high and held by concrete pylons placed at irregular intervals across a sprawling yard. What appear to be large elevators doors mark the far end [MOU1]  and human shapes crowd in and out of them.

Even close up, the figures [MOU2]  look blurry edged with talcum skin and have eyes that blaze in colours not customary for brown folk. Some are dressed in hospital smocks; some have dried blood on their clothes, some are missing limbs. All are shouting at the woman in white. She seems to be having conversations with each of you at the same time. Maybe everyone is asking the same questions.

If you were a betting man, which you are, you’d take 5/8 on this being a hallucination, most likely induced by Jaki’s silly pills. The woman opens a large register. She looks you up and down with neither interest nor scorn.

‘First must confirm details. Name?’

‘Malinda Albert Kabalana.’

‘One syllable please.’


‘You know what a syllable is?’


‘Thank you. Religion?’


‘How silly. Cause of death?’

‘Don’t remember.’

‘Time since death?’

‘Don’t know.’


Continue reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida on Shehan Karunatilaka’s website.

Read more about Shehan Karunatilaka.