Bingo: Asia/Oceania; Passport: Sri Lanka
Maali Almeida is dead. He can’t remember exactly what happened, and it takes a while for the reality of his situation to sink in.
Death is confusing, a bureaucratic maze with rules that everyone seems to expect him to already know, and forms that must be filled in before his seven days are up and he must choose what happens next.
Maali desperately wants to know how he died. He can follow his body through the ghost-ridden streets of Colombo as it is dismembered and tossed in a lake by corrupt cops, part of “today’s garbage”, but his corpse was found but not made by them.
Many people had reason to want him dead. Almeida was a fixer and a freelance photographer, with ambitions to “do for Sri Lanka’s civil war what naked napalm girl did for Vietnam”. There is a box of photos that powerful people would kill to keep hidden, that could be his legacy, if only he could find some way to send a message to the living world.
This is a difficult book for a Western reader plunged into unfamiliar mythology, immersed in the complexities of a postcolonial war-ridden society and confronted with the brutalities of a war waged by a state on its own people.
But it’s worth pushing through, carried by the dark humour, beautiful and insightful language, and compelling story. We learn the rules of being dead alongside Maali Almeida and his yearnings to be loved, understood, make his country better and bring some justice to those who sow division and hatred for their own gain are universal.