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A Review of “The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida”: Magic Realism & Art

A Review of "The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida": Magic Realism & Art
The novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka sits on a blue sandy beach towel.

To begin, I started reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka a few days before the new year ticked over. I’d started to see it pop-up throughout my social media feeds as a “prize winner” and an “amazing read”. I must admit, I felt skeptical at first. Prize winners don’t always mean great reads, and after Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016, any faith I had in literary prizes really fell to the wayside.

This is all a very roundabout way to say that The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was an amazing book and went against every apprehension I had. As soon as I started to read it, I could not put it down. I felt completely immersed in the story – carried with the winds of the in-between with Maali – and I was utterly hooked. Personally, it has been a breath of utter fresh air to have found Karunatilaka’s novel at a time where I haven’t always felt on my reading A-game.

In a Guardian interview, Karunatilaka talks about his literary influences and I was overjoyed to see him talk about Kurt Vonnegut because as I read The Seven Moons, I kept thinking to myself – this feels very Vonnegut-esque. Karunatilaka’s story is macabre and strange and opens with the main protagonist, Maali Almeida dead and in an afterlife that rivals any bureaucratic social service. He doesn’t know who murdered him, and the he sets out on a journey over the next seven moons to find his lost photos and their negatives, and his killer.

In his life, Maali was a photo-journalist covering the Sri Lankan civil war and conflict throughout the 1980s. He notoriously worked for no one and everyone, hoping that his photos would one day tell the true story of his country and bring about peace. There are many ways to read Karunatilaka’s novel, but I found it extremely interesting to ponder if art can save us from our own inhumanity? And is it wrong of us, to follow Maali, and believe that if we create enough truth through art that we will save ourselves?

I don’t have any answers to these big questions, and with every twist and turn of the novel, I felt myself shifting in all different directions.

To summarise, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida brings historical fiction through the lens of magic realism. I was utterly shocked by who the killer was – I promise you won’t get any spoilers from me – and I absolutely loved the ending. Again, I won’t delve too deep here – no spoilers.

If you need a book to reset your reading habits for the new year – please try this book. I hope you like it as much as I did. Please let me know if you have read it in the comments below. As always, share the reading love.