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A Chat with War Photographer Maali Almeida…in the Afterlife

Renegade war photographer Maali Almeida has to solve his own murder. Does that sound fun? It would be if there wasn’t so much bloody red-tape to get through. It’s also doesn’t look like anyone alive is actually missing him. Worst of all, it’s all those goddamn memories of war, constantly interrupted by the overly chatty dead folks breezing through the afterlife. Besides, he’s so busy solving his ethical dilemmas that there’s barely any time to solve a murder-even if it’s his own. 

As we meet the photographer in the afterlife in Chats with the Dead, we discover there is so much more to him than just a name. As well as to the stories of all the people who are dead and gone.

Meet (late) Maali Almeida in an excerpt below:


Say My Name

You want to ask the universe what everyone else wants to ask the universe. Why are we born, why do we die, why anything has to be. And all the universe has to say in reply is I don’t know arsehole stop asking. The After Life is as confusing as the Before Death, the In Between is as arbitrary as the Down There. So, we each make up stories because we’re afraid of the dark.

The wind brings your name and you follow it through air and concrete and steel. You float through a Slave Island alley and you hear the whispers in every doorway. ‘Almeida . . . Malinda . . .’ Then the wind blows through busy Dehiwela streets and you hear more voices. ‘War photographer . . . activist . . . Almeida . . . Maali . . . missing . . .’

From slave to Dehiwela in one breath, faster than a helicopter ride. At least death frees you from Galle Road traffic, Parliament Road drivers and checkpoints on every road. You ride past the faces of oblivious people ambling through Colombo’s shabby streets, the mortal brothers and sisters of the dearly departed and quickly forgotten. You are a leaf in a gale, blown by a force you can neither control nor resist.

Lankan visionary Arthur C. Clarke said thirty ghosts stand behind everyone alive, the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. You look around you and fear the great man’s estimate might have been conservative.

Every person has a spirit crouching behind them. Some have guardians hovering above and swatting away the ghouls, the pretas, the rahu and the demons. Some have distinguished members of these latter groups standing before them, hissing idle thoughts in their faces. A few have devils squatting on their shoulders and filling their ears with bile.

Sir Arthur has spent three decades of his life on these haunted shores and is clearly a Sri Lankan. Austria convinced the world that Hitler was German and Mozart was theirs. Surely, after centuries of armed plunder, courtesy the sea pirates from London, Amsterdam and Lisbon, may we Lankans at least help ourselves to one sci-fi visionary?

At Borella junction, a woman in white walks the edge of your periphery and disappears when you focus; a demon toddler squats in a corner and hisses at the young girls waiting for buses; a clovenhoofed ghoul stands at the headlights looking for a motorcyclist to impale. It appears that too many in Colombo have died unwillingly and too few are ready to leave.

One by one, the figures look at you, each pupil a different shade, each iris with its own sheen. The angry flash greens and yellows, the lost glimmer in browns and in blues. The hungry blink in famished purple, the helpers wink in pretentious white. There are also those with red eyes and black eyeballs whose gazes you dare not meet.

Bestselling author of Chinaman, Shehan Karunatilaka is back with a darkly comedic story of life and death – with a brilliant twist. Infused with moments of staggering humanity, this one is a powerful read that exposes the plight of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of a civil war.


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