22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Shehan Karunatilaka

Portrait Shehan Karunatilaka
© Hartwig Klappert

Shehan Karunatilaka was born in 1975 in Galle in southern Sri Lanka. He studied English literature, as well as business administration at New Zealand Massey University. He then worked as a copywriter and creative director in London, Colombo and Singapore. He has also worked as a songwriter and musician (in the bands Independent Square and Powercut Circus), a travel reporter and a journalist (amongst others for, »National Geographic«, »The Guardian«, »Rolling Stone« »Newsweek«, »Wisden« and »The Cricketers«).In 2000 his first novel, »The Painter« was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize initiated by Michael Ondaatje despite not being acquired for publication. In 2008 he received this award and was also awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Book Prize (2012) and the highly regarded DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2011) for his novel, »Chinaman«. It recounts the story of celebrated but alcoholic sports reporter, Wije Karunasena along with his neighbours and contemporaries in their search for a record-breaking cricketer, Pradeep Mathew, of whom there is no trace. This investigation into the fate of an athlete vanished into obscurity leads to memorable encounters, including with a six-fingered coach and a leader of the Tamil Tigers, the paramilitary organization fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war. Seemingly bizarre, the text nevertheless functions as a socially critical commentary in which statistics and illustrative diagrams break through the surface providing insight into a socially and ethnically fissured society. His obsession with locating the iconic bowler causes the journalist, now suffering from liver disease, to fight with his wife Sheila and grow estranged from his son, who is named after the legendary cricketer Garfield Sobers. Despite its focus on a sport sometimes regarded as peculiar, Karunatilaka succeeds in giving the story an essentially affirmative, universal dimension as the narrator, prone to memory lapses and not always reliable, explores the complexities of ambition and succumbs to all too human entanglements. Karunatilaka, who himself played cricket in his youth, quit his job to research the biographies of prominent players which he later fictionalised in concise sentences and short paragraphs accompanying that of the legendary title character.Karunatilaka, who cites Kurt Vonnegut, Nick Hornby as well as William Goldman as among his favourite authors, lives in Colombo.