Sheehan Karunatilaka: “There is a sense of humor in Sri Lanka… We have been through a lot of disasters” | imagination

BOrn in 1975, Sheehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan author of two novels. Chinaman (2010) won the Commonwealth Book Award and was declared by Wisden the second best cricket book ever. The Seven Moons of His Excellency Almaida Set in 1989 in war-torn Sri Lanka, the film revolves around a dead war photographer trying to find out who killed him; It was nominated last month for the Booker Prize (the winner will be announced October 17). Karunatilaka lived in London and New Zealand, among other places, before returning to Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

Congratulations on your shortlist in Booker. why do you think The Seven Moons of His Excellency Almaida Judges appealed too much?
This one’s tough. I’ve been writing this book for some time, and every time the awards roll, I see judges saying, “We prefer realistic fiction” or “We prefer volumes.” So I stopped trying to guess. This year there are a few magical and satirical books. I’m looking forward to meeting [the judges] And suck them up and say nice things about their great taste.

Have you read any of your competitors on the Booker Shortlist?
rivals! Your fellow lottery winners. I ordered the books on the long list, but they don’t deliver the books to Sri Lanka as it’s nothing essential. I have this shipment waiting there. So I will be buying a lot of books when I visit the UK, for sure.

It’s been 11 years since then Chinaman. have you been writing seven moons all this time?
Well, life happened. I got married, had kids, and two babies running around. This slows things down. I didn’t want to write about the current situation – I mean that yet [Sri Lankan civil] The war was over, 2010, 2011. I’ve always had the idea of ​​letting the victims of atrocities speak for themselves, because everyone is arguing about who was wrong. And it took me a while to realize that 1989 was the period I wanted to write about. It went through various false starts, and the only thing that survived is this character, Honorable Almeida, who was a little ghost in one of the previous incarnations. That’s when the book took some form.

Was it important to you that such a violent story be funny as well?
I don’t know if that was intentional. There is Sri Lankan gallows humor, because we have been through so many disasters. The place is not as choppy as it was a month or two ago; There is still uncertainty, but a lot of people are cracking jokes. I guess I could never write a ghost story straight out of horror, maybe it’s just my intuition. Even in the setting of 1989, there was a lot of farce and it was absolutely ridiculous.

Your novel style is very free and lively. Do you follow a tradition?
We have a lot of Sri Lankan writings in English since the 1990s: Michael Ondaatje, Romesh Gunesekera. But to me the teacher was a gentleman named Karl Muller. he wrote fruit tree jam In 1993, he was one of the first to use the way Sri Lankans speak. I borrowed a lot of it for ChinamanThe idea of ​​a drunk uncle telling a long story. This is where this irreverent brand of Sri Lankan writing originates from.

Your love of British pop culture shines through in the book. Does this come from when you lived here?
number! That was in the eighties of the last century in Sri Lanka. We had two channels, and they were playing old British comedies like Fawlty Towers – And the Top of the pops, of course, but two years old, so you’d watch Frankie go to Hollywood in 1988. And we had VHS, too. We were the first generation that grew up watching TV.

Tell us about your time as a musician.
There is not much to say! I’ve had a couple of grunge bands in the ’90s, and I’ll probably start a midlife crisis band soon. For the past two years, she has played piano, bass and guitar. I’m even considering getting a drum set, which horrified my wife. I don’t think there will be an album. The dark side of the seven moons…

What have I learned as a novelist from the writing process? seven moons?
I know the process more now. Before, you get kind of frustrated; Writing a bad 200-page draft takes a lot out of you. As I write now the third, I expected First draft to be utter crap. All you know is: It can be done. It won’t be easy, it might be harder, but it can be done.

in recognitionMemory, your name is Douglas Adams, George Saunders and Kurt Vonnegut. Are they influential?
surely. These are the big three. With Vonnegut it’s all very dark stories, but it’s a riot. They are all hilarious. I kept [Saunders’s] December 10The thank you A five-part trilogy, two Vonnegut novels to hand, and then when you’re stuck, you just immerse yourself in and out.

And Cormac McCarthy, too. There is not much laughter.
No, but I was writing horrific scenes of disposing of bodies, so I was writing [read Blood Meridian] About Native American Vulnerability. There is a lot of brute force. I’m not sure it even has a moral code for it. It’s just: Men are savages and monkeys and I’ll use the language of the Bible to describe it in 400 pages.

What was the last great book you read?
It’s a grammar book. Elements of Rhetoric by Mark Forsyth. Last year, I was obsessed with this book. It’s all about these little language tricks by pop culture and the English language.

Did you read a lot as a kid?
My mom gave me books but I don’t think I’ve been reading more than anyone else. It escalated when I was a teenager, when I went to boarding school in New Zealand. So I read when I was a kid, but VHS tapes and Top of the pops It was more than I did.

How and where do you write?
This place is here [gestures around office]. But, most importantly, it’s four in the morning. Because I also work in copywriting [during the day]. So I write until the kids wake up, about 7ish. And between that [working] I waste my time playing with lights or making playlists. But I’m not leaving this room. I don’t know if there is sunshine outside. It was even more difficult when the kids kept knocking on the door. Now you’ve trained them not to do that.

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