First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Colombo, 1990. Maala Almeida – war photographer, gambler, and closet queen – has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers, and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka. A rip-soaring state-of-the-nation epic from one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a “thrilling read” (Rebecca Jones, BBC) that offers equal parts mordant wit and disturbing, profound truths.
For the fifth time this week, wishing everyone a happy new year! Woah. We have really welcomed a new year. I hope that 2023 will be a year of blessings, healing, good news, and good tidings for everyone. While uncertainties loom, we welcome this new year brimming with hope; hope springs eternal after all. COVID-19 remains a threat but we are in a better place than we were two years ago. Trade and commerce are recovering and finally stabilizing albeit global events have been undoing what has been gained. Nevertheless, I hope everyone is doing well. I hope that you are all healthy, in mind, body, and spirit. Speaking of, today is also the last working day of the week. I hope that everyone was able to accomplish the tasks they set forth to complete when the week ended. I hope that everyone is ending the week on a high note. If the week went awry, I hope you can spend the weekend resting and recovering.
Before I can jump into the weekend, let me cap the work week with a new First Impression Friday update, my first for the year. It has developed into a weekly tradition, something that I will again carry over this coming year as it greatly helped me in appreciating my current reads. It serves as a checkpoint that aids me in gathering my thoughts about the books I am reading. For my First Impression Friday update, I will be sharing my initial thoughts on Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. This is my second read for the year, after Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead. This also means that I am on a five-book streak of 2022 releases; also, seven of my last eight reads were all published in 2022; the only deviation was Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
Anyway, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is the Sri Lankan writer’s sophomore novel. Prior to 2022, however, I have never heard of Karunatilaka nor had I encountered or read any of his works. His debut novel, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, was published in 2019 and earned him several accolades. He would gain more ground, apparently, with his sophomore novel which first caught my attention when it was longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction. And what do you know? The book went all the way to winning one of the most distinguished literary prizes. 2022 was a big year for South Asian writers at the Booker Prizes, with Geetanjali Shree winning the Booker International Prize with her novel Tomb of Sand.
Obtaining a copy of the book, however, turned out to be a challenge and it wasn’t only toward the end of 2022 that I was able to obtain my own copy. Without more ado, I immediately dived into the book even though I had other (tons of) books lined up (I apologize to them in advance *crying emoji*). When I started reading the book, I did expect that it would be a little different from the book I usually read. The title alone was more than enough of a hint. Sure enough, the book commenced with an unusual start. We first meet the main protagonist, the titular Maali Almeida – full name Malinda Almeida Kabalana – as he was navigating his way in the afterlife. He woke up in an unfamiliar place, unsure of what happened to him. He wasn’t even able to remember who he was.
As the story moved forward, we learn more about Maali. He was a photographer and his works were used by various organizations such as the Canada Norway Third World Relief (CNTR, pronounced as center). But to appreciate the story, one needs to understand where and when it was set. The story was set in Sri Lanka and spanned the 1980s to the 1990s when Almeida passed away. What was unfolding was the tumultuous landscape of Sri Lanka, with its unstable political atmosphere constantly undermined by subversive groups from different and warring religious and cultural groups. There was a section titled ABBREVIATIONS where Karunatilaka kept the readers abreast of these militant factions, such as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), which many are more familiar with as the Tamil Tigers; and the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) which wanted to overthrow the capitalist state. Corruption was another social and political concern.
From what I am getting, the novel’s structure follows Almeida’s adventure (if you can call it that) as he retraced what has happened to him. Through his story, we get to understand what happened and what is happening in Sri Lanka. So far, I am liking the reading experience and I already have an image in my mind of how the story is going to flow. There is an interplay between culture, history, and magical realism that I find well-executed, so far. Karunatilaka has also sprinkled his novel with a bit of humor and wit, on top of some scathing commentary on his home nation and its people. The story and the writing are quite accessible so there should be not much trouble for me.
I can’t wait to see how Maali’s story develops. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy holidays everyone!