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."
DAMON GALGUT is a novelist who has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (The Good Doctor and In A Strange Room). His most recent novel, Arctic Summer, was nominated for the Walter Scott and Folio prizes and his fiction has been published in sixteen languages. A film adaptation of The Quarry, starring Michael Shannon, was released in 2020. Damon Galgut lives and works in Cape Town.
A superb novel; a nuanced, sad, hilarious portrait of a family and a country -- PAULA HAWKINS A moving, brilliantly told family epic . . . darkly comic . . . phenomenally good -- ELIZABETH DAY Layered, clever...with a gripping story -- CLAIRE FULLER * Daily Mail, Books of the Year * A brilliant book told over four decades and four funerals . . . These are characters dancing on the edge of ruin . . . Intoxicating -- ANNA HOPE Astonishing . . . about fate and loss, about three siblings and land, a promise made a broken -- COLM TOIBIN A remarkable tale of four generations of one South African family and of the country itself... No wonder it won the Booker * Observer, Books of the Year * Vivid and suggestive, moving and often very funny * Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year * Outstanding . . . Gripping . . . There is also plenty of unexpected comedy * BBC News * Brilliant... Rarely have I had such a strong sense, while reading a novel, that I myself was there, in the room with the characters * Financial Times * A dazzling feat of kaleidoscopic storytelling * The Times, Books of the Year *