Shehan Karunatilaka’s ‘Seven Moons’ Wins the 2022 Booker

In News by Porter Anderson

A tale of a war photographer’s post-death search for truth in Sri Lanka’s violence wins the UK’s Booker Prize for Fiction.

Camilla, the queen consort, meets winning author Shehan Karunatilaka at the Booker Prize for Fiction ceremony at London’s Roundabout. Image: Booker Prize Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Also today: Kim de l’Horizon Wins 2022 German Book Prize for ‘Blutbuch’

Neil MacGregor: ‘An Afterlife Noir’
Author Shehan Karunatilaka tonight (October 17) has become the second Sri Lankan-born winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction, the first being one of the award’s most celebrated laureates, Michael Ondaatje, who won in 1992.

He wins for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, published by the independent house Sort of Books. The novel is his second, following the 2011 appearance of Chinaman, which won the Commonwealth Prize and the Gratiaen Prize, the latter of which is given to a resident of Sri Lanka writing in English.

Karunatilaka was presented his trophy by Camilla, the queen consort, in the program’s ceremony at London’s Roundhouse. That event was hosted by the comedian Sophie Duker and included a keynote address by singer-songwriter Dua Lipa.

The program was followed in many parts of the world as part of a 45-minute special edition of Front Row on BBC Radio 4, Samira Ahmed presenting. Television coverage was seen on the BBC News Channel and BBC World news as part of the Booker Foundation’s relatively recent arrangement with the network. A live interview with Karunatilaka followed the announcement on BBC News at Ten.

The award carries a cash prize of £50,000 (US$56,810), handed to him by Damon Galgut, the 2021 Booker Prize winner from South Africa. Each of the six authors shortlisted receives £2,500 (US$2,840) and a specially bound edition of her or his book.

Karunatilaka has also been given a newly created trophy, a figurine based on the Erté-reflective original 1969 creation by author-illustrator Jan Pieńkowski, who died earlier this year.

We can also look forward to learning what sort of marketplace impact follows tonight’s announcement. Providing the international publishing industry with details of sales volume increases and/or print runs is something the Booker has led the way in doing, offering more than the feel-good joy of powerfully visible honor such as the Booker. Many in our world readership hope to see more leading awards programs make that kind of information available.

Booker Prize Sales Impact

As an example of this, it’s worth remembering that the program has reported that in the two weeks after Galgut’s The Promise won the prize in 2021, it sold 1,925-percent more copies in the United Kingdom than it had sold in the previous two weeks.

According to The Bookseller, as reported by the Booker Foundation, in the 12 weeks after his win, Galgut sold more copies of his books than he had in the previous 17 years since first being published in England.

International translation, publication, and/or other rights to The Promise have been sold into 35 territories.

For our internationalist readership, the Booker Prize for Fiction is not to be confused, of course, with the International Booker Prize, which is focused on translation.

The Booker Prize trophy given to Shehan Karunatilaka is a new interpretation of the original figurine created in 1969 by the late author-illustrator Jan Pieńkowski. Image: Booker Prize Foundation

Gaby Wood: The Jury as ‘an Incredible Team’

In announcing the news of Karunatilaka’s win tonight, jury chair Neil MacGregor said, “Any one of the six shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner.

Neil MacGregor

“What the judges particularly admired and enjoyed in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was the ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques. 

“This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, East and West.

“It’s an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ’the world’s dark heart’—the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.”

MacGregor was joined by a jury panel comprising Helen Castor, Alain Mabanckou, M John Harrison, and Shahidha Bari.

Gaby Wood

Booker Prize Foundation director Gaby Wood said, “This year’s Booker judges have formed an incredible team. At their final meeting they were sad to disband, and to be separated from the books that had kept them company. They had come to find that reading, a private act, had become bigger and richer when it was done in a group, and as they showed one another what each of the novels they read could be.

Yet more BBC attention is anticipated on Tuesday (October 18), when Imagined Worlds, a special program, is to air on BBC Radio 4 at 4 p.m. In that show, recorded before tonight’s announcement, the jurors are expected to reminisce about this year’s choices and selection process.

Karunatilaka is scheduled to appear on Thursday (October 20) in the Southbank complex’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of London Literature Festival 2022, with Galgut who, media messaging says, will “pass the baton,” having already passed the check to Karunatilaka at tonight’s ceremony. Novelist Sara Collins will speak with Galgut and Karunatilaka.

Booker Prize for Fiction, the Full 2022 Shortlist

Image: Booker Prize Foundation

Author Nationality Title Publisher, Imprint
NoViolet Bulawayo Zimbabwean Glory Penguin Random House, Vintage, Chatto & Windus
Percival Everett American The Trees Influx Press
Alan Garner British Treacle Walker  HarperCollins, Fourth Estate
Shehan Karunatilaka Sri Lankan The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida Sort of Books
Claire Keegan Irish Small Things Like These  Faber & Faber
Elizabeth Strout American Oh William! Penguin Random House, Penguin General, Vintage

Author Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction for The Promise. In the United Kingdom, the book is published by Penguin Random House/Chatto & Windus. In the United States, it’s published by Europa Editions.

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 180th awards report published in the 185 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

At the Booker Prize for Fiction award’s pink-and-blue-lit ceremony at London’s Roundabout. Image: Booker Prize Foundation

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Booker Prize for Fiction is here. More on the International Booker Prize is here, more from Publishing Perspectives on both Booker Prize programs is here.

More from us on the international industry’s myriad book and publishing awards programs overall is here

And more on the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.