Nickeled & Dimed

Penny for your thoughts?

We are accepting articles on our new email:

Exploring the Shadows of War and Love: A Review of ‘Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’

By: Aditya Kalyan

Abstract -The Booker prize winner of 2022, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a book that exposes us to the Sri Lankan War with dark humour and magical realism. The obvious literary comparisons are with the magical realism of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. But the novel also recalls the wit and surrealism of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The scenarios are often absurd – dead bodies bicker with each other – but executed with humour that
entertains the reader. Beneath the literary devices used lies the carnage caused by the civil war
on the body of Sri Lanka.

The Seven moons of Maali Almeida is perhaps one of the best books to have come out in the
past decade. Rife with satire and quick wit, it would be an understatement to call the book an
account of the Sri Lankan Civil War. The book explores the concept of religion in depth, among
other things, and reflects this theme in the book’s first line. “There are only two gods worth
worshipping. Chance and Electricity”.

The book begins with the death of our protagonist. The first few paragraphs tell us more about
our dead protagonist, his name, various occupations, and the year he died. Maali then wakes up,
in what he thinks is a tax office. The route to heaven was through a giant office where people
would register your name and check your ears among other things, before sending you into the

Although we get a brief idea as to who Maali is, we only get to know more about him as we
traverse through the book. So who was Maali? Maali was the son of a father who did not care
and a mother who cared too much. Their opposing religious identities did not help Maali’s cause.
Maali was also a photographer, a gambler, and a gay man who was alive (and died) during the
Sri Lankan Civil War.

At first, Maali thinks he has swallowed one of Jaki’s (a friend who he hurt but cared for) silly
pills. But he soon regains his sanity and understands that he truly is dead, once and for all. In the
Tax office, he finds people he has known in his lifetime. He meets the dead Tamil university
teacher who was shot down for her views on the Tamil Tigers. He also meets people who
belonged to the JVP who the government hunted down for their communist ideas. Karunatilaka
paints a rich picture of Sri Lanka during the war, the brutalities that were in force and the
empathy that was missing. Maali was a skilled photographer, who, instead of being content with
taking pictures of nature, decided to expose the atrocities of the war. Maali is fine with being
dead but not fine with not knowing how he died. It doesn’t take him much time to understand that
his death must have been tied to the pictures he had taken, so he sets out on a journey to find out how he was killed. He is told that he has 7 moons to wander the Earth or the “In Between”, and
if he stays back any longer, then he is stuck there. Not being able to forget the past or create a

The book starts out slow, providing us with the details of Almeida. Due to the life he has lived,
the reader can sometimes feel overwhelmed, but soon, one learns that Almeida was an
extraordinary person who lived in extraordinary times. The book is filled with sardonic humour
and compelling descriptions of death. We are also greeted by Almeida’s lover DD or Dilan
Dharmendra who is also the son of Stanley Dharmendra, a cabinet minister and Jaki, who is
Almeida’s friend and DD’s cousin. The book divides its space between Almeida’s odyssey as a
ghost in Sri Lanka and Jaki and DD’s journey to find the photos, both trying to find the reason
for the death of our protagonist. In the midst of painting a very rich literary landscape,
Karunatilaka also manages to write a compelling whodunnit. The ending might be a bit absurd,
but then everything about this book can be termed as absurd. Taking inspiration from the magical
realism of the likes of Murakami, the author manages to describe quarrelling ghosts, communist
ghouls, talking animals and dead tourists. “Kafka on the Shore” by Murakami is a prime example of
magical realism in contemporary literature. In the novel, Murakami creates a world that is both ordinary and fantastical, where supernatural events occur in a matter-of-fact manner and the boundaries between reality and dreams blur. Similarly, Karunatilaka’s work is a very good example of magical realism in literature. The similarities between the two books are many. In Kafka on the Shore, there are talking cats that can speak with humans and offer philosophical insights. This is an example of magical realism as it is a supernatural occurrence within an otherwise realistic setting. Almeida too comes across a talking leopard who contemplates the purpose of death and is the master of rhetorical questions. In both books, characters experience vivid dreams and visions that are often surreal and fantastical. These dream sequences are seamlessly integrated into the narrative, blurring the boundaries between reality and imagination.

As Maali finishes his journey, one breathes a sigh of relief with him, and as one finishes reading
the book, one cannot help but feel sad for Maali and the countless others who lost their lives
during the war. The book deserves all the critical acclaim it has garnered and should definitely
find a spot on your bookshelf.

About the Author

Aditya Kalyan is a third-year student at O.P Jindal Global University majoring in Literature
and International Business.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: