The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

This 2022 Booker Prize winner book is like no other. The protagonist, Maali Almeida is dead. He has been killed and his body dumped in Colombo’s Beira Lake. His ghost is now narrating the story and trying to find out his killer/s. The premise is happening in the very nebulous In Between, wherein ghosts are looming large over Colombo’s skyline and constantly trying to interact or distract the living mortals Down There. If this has intrigued you already, wait till you read the brilliance with which Shehan Karunatilaka has authored this story. It is set in the extremely turbulent times of Sri Lanka’s civil war circa 1989. Maali is a war photographer who clicks unfiltered, raw and controversial photos of war victims, ruthless politicians and the civil unrest per se. Debauchery forms his middle name, as he parties with Colombo’s elite and canoodles countless young men. Now that he’s dead, he’s got “Seven Moons” to sort out his grievances. He tries desperately to reach and send signals to his people Down There, especially his best friend Jaki and his on-off boyfriend DD. Other ghosts inadvertently and reluctantly help him with this pursuit. As Maali finds out his killer, whilst protecting the war photographs that could expose the dirty politics of the country, he also tries to make amends with all his strained relationships, albeit, its now in the afterlife.

This roller coaster of a story gains momentum from the start and constantly shifts between the past and present; real and otherworldly. Shehan doesn’t shy away from presenting the gory details of the politics behind the war using satire and dark humour; at the same time also blasphemously portraying the privileged ignorance of other countries and international organisations in mindlessly sustaining the war. The mastery of his writing is evident in the way he has fleshed out Maali’s character who you want to sympathise with just because he’s dead but are also put off by his arrogance, audacity and impetuous attitude. The nuanced portrayal of the various messy relationships between the characters and their interplays in the backdrop of a war and an afterlife is ingenious to say the least. Shehan has been able to translate the palpable frustration of Maali in us as his ghost looks arounds furtively and helplessly for answers. Also, very rarely do you come across such an effortless writing which doesn’t take sides despite a raging war, countless deaths, and a humanity at loss.



Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah

📍East Africa (Kenya/ Tanzania)

Nobel laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah, needs no introduction. He won the Noble Prize in Literature in 2021, for his uncompromising and consistent retelling of stories from East Africa. He was born in 1948 and grew up in Zanzibar, and arrived in England as a refugee in the end of 1960s. Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. However, his fourth novel, Paradise; was a breakthrough, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award in 1994.

Paradise tells the story of Yusuf set during the late nineteenth century. Born in a remote village in East Africa, Yusuf gets sold off as a child, by his parents, to a wealthy Arab merchant, Aziz. The story then tracks his journey as he grows into his adolescence whilst being a servant and unpaid labourer to Aziz. As the region becomes increasingly colonised by the Europeans, the book draws parallels to the captive life of Yusuf. When he accompanies Aziz on one of the caravan journeys to the interiors of African hinterland, he encounters trading, enslaving, combat, and forms of human misery. This is when he also gets introduced to the Quran and the Muslim way of life. As Yusuf questions his purpose and principles in life, he seesaws between feelings of love and bereavement for his parents and the angst over his abandonment. He is also embittered by the cruel systems of patriarchy overwhelmingly prevalent in the region. Whilst toying with these mental conflicts, he also experiences nuances of romantic love. The climax is unnerving and surreal as Yusuf voluntarily chooses captivity over freedom. With this Gurnah makes this poignant observation of how humans would prefer their comfort zones, even if that meant being enslaved. Paradise can be paradoxical.

The book is unapologetically African in its presentation. The author takes us on this uncomfortable tour through parts of Africa, where poverty, classism and slavery remain cornerstones of the societal narrative. He doesn’t shy away from presenting differing opinions on various religions and their beliefs spoken through a myriad of characters including an Indian. He also vehemently discusses imperialism through the lens of a marginalised and colonised race. Stellar!

Gurnah’s latest book, After Lives, released in 2020, takes up where Paradise ends. Can’t wait to read!



After having read the brilliant “fusion fiction” book, GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by the astute and dynamic writer, Bernardine Evaristo, which was a vibrant and unapologetic narrative on race, intersectional feminism, ageism, gender, sexuality told by a plethora of Black women; it completely shifted my understanding about the said things. The book also won the Booker Prize in 2019 and hence she became the first Black woman and first Black British person to have won the award. I personally feel, Bernardine Evaristo, is one the best writers of our times who doesn’t shy away from decoding false narratives surrounding complex sociopolitical issues. Her unabashed truth telling jolts us from our stupor and makes us see the world through a more humane lens. And now, the writer’s latest book is a memoir manual, wherein, she talks about her life from growing up years to relationships to her writing methodology, in the most candid manner. The book is divided into seven chapters and through this she takes us on this journey of self exploration and growth. Growing up as a mixed race woman in a white-washed London society of the 1960s and 70s, was challenging. However her bold and nonconformist attitude made her convert these challenges into moments of opportunities. She says, up until the Booker Prize win, there were people who never took her seriously despite having published seven books by then. While describing her flings and romantic relationships she doesn’t shy away from taking ownership of her flaws in a particular relationship, and at the same time also acknowledges how each relationship, whether good, bad or ugly; has shaped her to be the woman she is today. She ponders over various aspects of her sexuality from being a lesbian lover to currently being married to a man. A greater part of the book, she meticulously describes her writing process; how she evolved from being a poet to a prose and fiction writer. She brazenly admits to having insecurities and fears regarding her writing. It took years and lots of self assurance and self belief to negate her own scepticism. As she elucidates the process of owning her agency on her creativity, it serves as a manual for all the writers and creative professionals who are stuck and keep questioning their ability to write and create.

Memoirs can be tricky. It can become very indulgent. It’s always a fine line to tread from it not seeming like a boastful venture. However the ingenious and modest, Bernardine Evaristo, does this job with utmost precision. As you read the book, through all her experiences and expertise, you get a sense of humility and grace that’s at the core of her writing and existence. This isn’t one of those flippant and narcissistic autobiographies; instead, it’s intelligent, intuitive and incandescent. You come out of it feeling restful and seen.


The Promise

The 2021 Booker Prize winning book is piercing and provocative. It delves into our hidden subconscious racist mentalities which can seem subtle and harmless from the outside. The story is about a white South African family, the Swart’s, and is told through four funerals extending over different time periods, encompassing South Africa’s transition out of apartheid. When Rachel Swart is on her death bed, she asks of her husband, Manie, for a promise, wherein he would give the ownership of their current home and it’s accompanying land to their black caretaker/ maid, Salome. This conversation is overheard by their youngest daughter Amor. However, the promise is never kept and is conveniently forgotten or shelved citing legalities. Despite Amor reminding her father and her other siblings, Astrid and Anton, of this promise, nobody bothers to consider it. This betrayal sort of falls as a curse on this family wherein everyone, other than Amor, dies a tragic death. And that’s when, Amor hands over the property to Salome, but is then forced to confront her subdued racism and her inherent fecklessness.

The book focuses deeply on the skewed and troubled interpersonal relationships between the parents and the siblings and between the siblings themselves. The dysfunctional and patriarchal upbringing damages each of the children, as they suffer from insecurity, lack of self worth, and body image, relationship and mental health issues. The author, Damon Galgut, doesn’t shy away from addressing the reader directly in the midst of the narration to point out our prejudices and bigotry. His rendition of complex human emotions and the subliminal satire is ingenious. Restitution when not done on time, need not guarantee absolution.

This book set during the apartheid times has won the prize this year, when we are also witnessing a travel apartheid against South Africa and other African countries due to omicron.

Have we, as a world, learnt anything?


A Passage North

Sri Lankan author, Anuk Arudpragasam’s second book, and also shortlisted for Booker Prize 2021, is striking but deliberately difficult. The book is a meandering tale of a Sri Lankan Tamil man, Krishan, living in Colombo, who is now faced with the news of his grandmother Appamma’s caretaker, Rani’s death in the far flung village of Kilinochchi, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. As Krishan leaves on this train journey to the North, a region devastated by the civil war, he starts ruminating on his life’s choices and outcomes; philosophically analysing them, in the context of the inevitable truths of grief, loss, trauma and death.

As the author builds Krishan’s narrative, he also introduces us to the relationships he shares with all the women in his life including mother, grandmother, Rani and his former girlfriend Anjum. Anjum is an Indian girl, he meets while in Delhi. Though they share a “friend with benefits” relationship, more so from Anjum’s perspective; Krishan feels drawn to her romantically. Since separated and not in touch, Krishan keeps reminiscing about her; he remains in denial about the unrequited love and his inability to come to a closure.

Through the story of Rani, the Tamil woman, who loses both her sons to the war and is now battling severe clinical depression, the author brings to fore the turbulent times of the country when the Tigers and the military were engaged in a destructive duel. The book also has detailed multi-page recountings of Tamil poems, Buddha, and television documentaries.

Through the book, very little happens. While the author is adept at illustrating our most private and everyday emotions and thoughts lucidly; at the same time, it also feels like rambling. The dialogue-less prose, is full of long, laborious and word-y sentences. The character of Krishan comes across as inconsequential, indecisive and tedious.

To summarise, the book feels more like an indulgent experience, than immersive.


At night all blood is black

This 2021 International Booker Prize winner, is a sordid telling about a Senegalese soldier during the First World War. Alfa Ndiaye, is a strong and handsome man, recruited by the French against the German troops. Mademba Diop, with whom Alfa shares a brotherhood with, gets brutally killed and disemboweled during one of the attacks. Alfa sees him pleading for death and writhing in agony during his last moments and feels helpless and responsible about not providing him death sooner. This event destabilises Alfa which makes him seek gruesome revenge on the Germans. Every night he kills one of them and brings their severed hand as a medallion. Initially, his own troops and the French captain laud him for his bravery. But as his grotesque killing continues, the same people, now deem his bravery as savagery; call him dëmm, the devourer of souls and avoid him. All of this, makes Alfa have mental breakdowns and hence is ordered by the captain to be sent to an asylum. Slowly Alfa starts losing his memory, gets delusional and forgets his own identity.

The author, in the second half, throws light on the friendship and brotherhood of Alfa and Mademba. The relationship of Alfa with this mother, Penndo Ba, who leaves him at the age of nine, remains constrained with an unsaid love and resentment. The book describes the culture and traditions of Fula people of Senegal. The words and the narration get deliberately repetitive, probably to keep it authentic to Alfa Ndiaye’s thoughts.

Through the story, Alfa emerges as this brute force who only knows, blood, death and violence as the language of love, care and loyalty. In his delusional state, when he commits a rape; he believes it to be his act of making love. Narrated by Alfa himself, the story gets intentionally disturbing, making you squirm.

The book is translated from French by Anna Moschovakis, who shares the Booker Prize with the author David Diop. The story is a slice of the unspoken brutality of the First World War. As also, it’s an unflinching account of the life and mind of a soldier, facing the trauma of a war.