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The Promise

Damon Galgut

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Chatto & Windus
04 June 2021

WINNER - 2021 BOOKER PRIZE

A taut and menacing novel that charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, the Swarts, who live on a farm outside Pretoria. Punctuated by funerals that bring the ever-diminishing family together, each of the four parts opens with a death and a new decade. The promise of the title is one the Swarts make – and fail to keep over the years – to give a home and land to the black woman who worked for them her whole life. As we traverse the decades, Damon interweaves the story of a disappointed nation from apartheid to Jacob Zuma.

The characterisations are razor sharp, the dialogue dramatic, the action gripping.


The Booker Prize judges praised The Promise as "a spectacular demonstration of how the novel can make us see and think afresh", comparing it to the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. "It is a strong, unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself that can best be summed up in the question: does true justice exist in this world? We felt this book really is a tour de force. It combines an extraordinary story with rich themes – the history of the last 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-wrought package."

Chair of the Booker judges, historian Maya Jasanoff, said "Before we even started talking about the individual titles, we had a more wide-ranging discussion about what it is we feel makes a book a winner. One of the judges drew a distinction between the very good and the great. For me, The Promise manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling – it’s a book that has a lot to chew on – with remarkable attention to structure and literary style. With each reading of this book, it revealed something new."

This is the first time Galgut has walked away with the £50,000 prize, despite having been shortlisted twice before. The Promise is his ninth novel and his first in seven years. Galgut grew up in Pretoria, where The Promise is set, and now lives in Cape Town. He described the Swart family as "a kind of amalgamation of everything I grew up with in Pretoria. They’re a mix of English and Afrikaans, and a hodge-podge of creeds and beliefs, too. Not unusual for this part of the world. But what makes them 'representative' isn’t their characters, it's the times they're living through."

By:   Damon Galgut
Imprint:   Chatto & Windus
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 215mm,  Width: 135mm,  Spine: 23mm
Weight:   306g
ISBN:   9781784744076
ISBN 10:   1784744077
Pages:   288
Publication Date:   04 June 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Damon Galgut is a novelist whose work has been published in sixteen languages. He has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a past winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. His most recent novel, Arctic Summer, was awarded the 2015 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and two films were made of his book The Quarry. He lives and works in Cape Town.

Reviews for The Promise

Stunning . . . Galgut deploys every trick in the book; he's heart-swellingly attentive to emotional complexity . . . Galgut has twice been shortlisted [for the Booker prize] . . . don't be surprised if Galgut goes one better this year -- Anthony Cummins * Observer * Galgut seems to deliver effortlessly...there's nothing he can't do... [his] style is quiet but the book feels bursting with life because of all the of all the off-page, between-times details he hints at... This is so obviously one of the best novels of the year... a book that answers the question what is a novel for? With a simple: This! -- John Self * The Times * The Promise functions as a spare but thoroughly satisfying parable, the decline of the Swarts into moral degeneracy and death tracing the forsaken promises of the post-apartheid era, from early hope to the contemporary realities of corruption and racial enmity . . . [a] magisterial, heart-stopping novel -- Nat Segnit * Times Literary Supplement * A complex, ambitious and brilliant work - one that provides Galgut's fullest exploration yet of the poisonous legacy of apartheid . . . Galgut describes his characters with rare assurance and skill, conjuring them to life in a narrative voice that moves restlessly from character to character . . . Rarely have I had such a strong sense, while reading a novel, that I myself was there, in the room with the characters -- William Skidelsky * Financial Times * The Promise is fully rooted in contemporary South Africa, but the novel's weather moves into the elemental while attending also to the daily, the detailed and the personal. The book is close to a folktale or the retelling of a myth about fate and loss, about three siblings and land, a promise made and broken. The story has an astonishing sense of depth, as though the characters were imagined over time, with slow tender care -- Colm Toibin


  • Long-listed for Booker Prize 2021 (UK)

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