Human Interest

Sri Lanka celebrates Booker Prize winner for his work on the civil war

Colombo, Oct 18 (EFE).- With the memory of the civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for 30 years and the repression against the Marxist insurgency of the 80s still fresh, Sri Lankans celebrated Tuesday the Booker Prize for Literature to their countryman Shehan Karunatilaka with smiles and tears.

The author received one of the most prestigious awards in English literature for his novel “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” an immersion in Sri Lanka’s traumatic past, at a time when the nation is in deep economic crisis.

Karunatilaka, 47, tells the story of a war photographer who wakes up after being killed during the turbulent 90s, in the midst of the civil war against the rebel Tamil Tigers.

Malina Almeida, also known as Malli, receives a permission for seven moons (nights) to contact his near ones and guide them to a series of photographs documenting atrocities committed during the civil war in Sri Lanka.

For Sri Lankans, “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” invokes real figures such as Richard de Zoysa, a journalist killed in 1990; and Rajani Thiranagama, an activist killed by the Tamil Tigers in 1989.

The biggest impact of the novel could be how it is received by those who lost their family members in the conflict.

Thiranagama’s daughter, Sharika, tweeted about the impression the book had on her while she read it on the death anniversary of her mother on Sep.21.

“It’s day (sic) my mother died, so I am reading your amazing ‘Seven Moons of Mali (sic)Almeida’ today. I cried because it is a tremendous book and because my mother is there ushering in the dead, tired, conscientious and humane. I cried and laughed throughout. Thank you,” she said.

The novel is angry and comical at the same time, thanks to an ever-present dark humor, as noted by the judges of the Booker Prize, as its grim story reverberates among the people of Sri Lanka.

Kumari, a 53-year-old resident Bibila village in the southern province of Uva, has recorded the stories her father and uncles told her about the violence and operations in the 1980s against the insurgent group Janata Vimukti Peramuna, currently a democratic party.

“He (My father) has seen beheaded bodies thrown on the ground, he never thought he would survive,” she told EFE, recalling the time when they had to sleep on the roof of their homes for fear of death squads and suicide bombers that Karunatilaka guides the readers through.

The war against the Tamil Tigers ended in 2009 with a bloody military operation, and Sri Lanka remains mired in a fragile process of reconciliation that has been denounced as too slow by nonprofits such as Amnesty International.

“I hope it is read 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 and unicorns, and not be mistaken for realism and political satire,” said Karunatilaka while receiving the award from the British Queen Consort Camilla in London. EFE


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