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Book excerpt: "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida" by Shehan Karunatilaka

"The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida," the Booker Prize-winning comic novel by Shehan Karunatilaka, is narrated by the ghost of a war photographer who's granted seven days to figure out who killed him.

Read an excerpt below.

W.W. Norton

Soon You Will Wake

It started ages ago, a thousand centuries ago, but let's skip all those yesterdays and begin last Tuesday. It is a day you wake up hungover and empty of thought, which is true of most days. You wake up in an endless waiting room. You look around and it's a dream and, for once, you know it's a dream and you're happy to wait it out. All things pass, especially dreams.

You are wearing a safari jacket and faded jeans and cannot remember how you got here. You wear one shoe and have three chains and a camera around your neck. The camera is your trusty Nikon 3ST, though its lens is smashed and its casing is cracked. You look through the viewfinder and all you see is mud. Time to wake up, Maali boy. You pinch yourself and it hurts, less like a short stab and more like the hollow ache of an insult.

You know what it's like to not trust your own mind. That LSD trip at the Smoking Rock Circus in 1973, hugging an araliya tree in Viharamahadevi Park for three hours. The ninety-hour poker marathon, where you won seventeen lakhs and then lost fifteen of them. Your first shelling in Mullaitivu 1984, stuffed in a bunker of terrified parents and screaming children. Waking in hospital, aged nineteen, not remembering your Amma's face or how much you loathed it.

You are in a queue, shouting at a woman in a white sari seated behind a fibreglass counter. Who hasn't been furious at women behind counters before? Certainly not you. Most Lankans are silent seethers, but you like to complain at the top of your lungs.

'Not saying your fault. Not saying my fault. But mistakes happen, no? Especially in government offices. What to do?'

'This is not a government office.'

'I don't care, Aunty. I'm just saying, I can't be here, I have photos to share. I'm in a committed relationship.'

Excerpted from "The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida" by Shehan Karunatilaka. Copyright © 2022 by Shehan Karunatilaka. First American Edition 2023. First Published in Great Britain in 2022 by Sort Of Books. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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