There is an old saying, “Dead men tell no tales”.
But how wonderful and useful it would be if we could follow a conversation into the afterlife? And what more wonderful than if you wrote about it and then won the Booker Prize for your efforts? Is this the stuff from which dreams are made?
Clearly true if you consider my guest today, Shehan Karunatilaka, winner of the The Booker Prize 2022.
In Shehan’s novel, The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida, the main protagonist is dead but the character is alive. The novel—set in a terrible patch of Sri Lankan history between 1983 and 1990—is the story of a photojournalist who dies. In the afterlife, he finds himself in the "In-between"—a state between "Down There" which is life on earth and "The Light"—and where that is, is revealed at the end of the book.
The protagonist is confronted by—of all things—a bureaucracy in the afterlife and he is told he has a week, or seven moons, to find out how he died if he wanted to make it to The Light.
The novel touches the reader in many ways. Not the least to wonder what happens if we were indeed to find bureaucracy in the afterlife. Even the disappointment that visits us upon such a proposition is not rational. Yet…
Shehan uses the second person as a literary device. Literary fiction written in the second-person is rare. This style is unusual because the narrator tells the story to the reader using the personal pronoun "you." The perspective suggests that the reader is the protagonist.
Shehan Karunatilaka’s prose is compelling…gripping, even. The turns of phrase and word come together like play dough in what seems to be an absently crafted sculpture.
Intelligent prose is never without its humour and Shehan’s prose has a river of funny as its undercurrent.
He defines a queue in Sri Lanka as “…an amorphous curve with multiple entry points.” (Clearly, a south Asian malaise.)
"The afterlife is a tax office and everyone wants a rebate."
"You drift among the broken people with blood on their breath."
All this and you are still on Page 10.
But humour is peppered through the entire narrative and some of it is recognisable to typical snarky South Indian humour. This on page 135: ”...frilly shirt tailored by a blind man”.
In the context though, the humour is a noir humour that characterises places in the world that are in strife—such as Ireland, parts of the Middle East and Shehan’s home country, Sri Lanka.
I really cannot wait to ask him about all this.
At the time of this recording, Shehan has just won the Booker Prize, a little over a week ago. I know that the entire world’s media waits to talk to him and so, I am particularly happy that he chose to spend this time with me.
ABOUT SHEHAN KARUNATILAKA
Shehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan writer whose first book, Chinaman, won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Gratiaen Prize, and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is his second book, it won the Booker Prize 2022.
Buy The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida: https://amzn.to/3gUhnDw
WHAT'S THAT WORD?!
Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!", where they discuss the interesting origins of the phrase, "DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES"
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