Shehan Karunatilaka

Shehan Karunatilaka headshot

Shehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan author from Colombo. He is the author of two novels: Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (2010), which won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSC Prize, and the Gratiaen Prize, and The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (Sort of Books, 2022), which won the Booker Prize. His works have been translated into 26 languages. Karunatilaka is also the author of several children’s books, dedicated and inspired by his own children.

Excerpt from The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

The memories come to you with pain. The pain has many shades. Sometimes, it arrives with sweat and itches and rashes. At other times, it comes with nausea and headaches. Perhaps like amputees feeling absent limbs, you still hold the illusion of your decaying corpse. One minute you are retching, the next you are reeling, the next you are remembering.  

You met Jaki five years ago in the Casino at Hotel Leo. She was twenty, just out of school, and losing pathetically at baccarat. You were back from a torrid tour of the Vanni, unhinged by the slaughter, breaking bread with shady people, seeing the bad wherever you looked, and wearing your notorious red bandanna. You had sold the photos to Jonny at the Associated Press and cashed a welcome six-figure cheque. Even in Lankan rupees, six figures are better than five.  

You had outplayed the house at blackjack, whacked the crab at the buffet and washed it down with some free gin. A regular day at the office.  

‘Don’t bet on ties, sister,’ you said to the strange girl with frizzy hair and black make-up. She looked at you and rolled her eyes, which you found strange. Women usually like the look of you, not knowing that you prefer cock to cooch. A trimmed beard, an ironed shirt and a bit of deodorant will elevate you above a herd of sweaty Lankan hetero males.  

‘I just won twenty thousand rupees,’ she said.  

You noticed she was alone and that no one was hitting on her, both unusual for women in casinos in Colombo.  

‘And the chances of you winning that again are nine per cent. And this house only pays out seven-to-one, minus commission. Which means, follow that strategy a hundred times and you will lose, even when you win.’  

‘A man who knows everything. What a surprise.’  

Continue reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida at The Booker Prizes website.