Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, whose supernatural satire set amid the island nation's brutal civil war won the Booker Prize, has expressed hope that his crisis-hit country will soon learn from its stories and understand that the ideas of corruption, race baiting and cronyism have not worked and will never work.
Karunatilaka's novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ is about a photographer who wakes up dead, with a week to ask his friends to find his photos and expose the brutality of war. Karunatilaka, 47, became only the second Sri Lankan born to win the prestigious GBP 50,000 literary prize at a ceremony in London on Monday night, after Michael Ondaatje who won for ‘The English Patient’ in 1992.
Karunatilaka, who was born in Galle in 1975 and grew up in Colombo, said he decided in 2009 to write “a ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective” after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, “when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was”.
Hoping for a better future
Karunatilaka said as he accepted his prize, “I wrote this book for you. This is a win at a time when the country has lost so much. But let’s accept this victory and go on to win the T20 World Cup” and “My hope is that in the not too distant future Sri Lanka will understand that these ideas of corruption and race baiting and cronyism have not worked and will never work”, were much hailed in the social media platforms.
His remarks came after the unprecedented economic and political turmoil Sri Lanka witnessed that led to the change of the government headed by the Rajapaksa family in July.
“I hope it’s in print in 10 years… if it is, I hope it’s written in a Sri Lanka that learns from its stories, and that Seven Moons will be in the fantasy section of the bookshop, next to the dragons, the unicorns and will not be mistaken for realism or political satire," he was quoted as saying by Colombo Gazette.
The prestigious £50,000 prize, for a single work of fiction published in the UK in English, also gives the other five writers on the shortlist £2,500 each. The award winning book is a revised version of an earlier publication by Karunatilaka ‘Chats with the dead’.
Pat from President Ranil
President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa both issued messages of congratulations to Karunatilaka while social media became inundated with messages from Sri Lankans, who are overjoyed amidst the worst economic crisis that has hit the country.
Karunatilaka and this year's other shortlisted authors, NoViolet Bulawayo, Percival Everett, Claire Keegan and Elizabeth Strout, were all in attendance at the Roundhouse in London, with Alan Garner attending virtually.
Karunatilaka’s GBP 50,000 prize money and newly designed trophy were presented to him by last year’s winner Damon Galgut, along with a designer-bound edition of his book and the GBP 2,500 given to each shortlisted author. As the winner, the Sri Lankan author can expect instant international recognition and a dramatic increase in global sales.