The Promise ~ by Damon Galgut

Wonderful book!  And the winner of this year’s Booker Prize!   Damon Galgut has been a favored author of mine for years, but he can take awhile between novels. The only one on my blog is Arctic Summer and that was back in 2015.  (Sad to say I enjoyed that book the least.).  I’ve also read The Quarry, The Good Doctor, The Imposter and In a Strange Room – I missed his early novels.   

The Promise
by Damon Galgut
2021/ 296 pages
Read by: Peter Noble 9h 37m
Rating: 9.75 / Booker Prize winner
(Both read and listened) 

And with this book he’s gone and combined his wonderful writing talents with the subject of South Africa’s recent history which I’ve read many novels about.  (Including Cry, My Beloved Country by Alan Paton, several books by J.M. Coetzee, some books by Nadine Gordimer, Agaat by Maureen van Niekerk (marvelous) and there have been others. Galgut is originally from South Africa.

Anyway, yesterday it was announced Galgut had won this year’s Booker Prize for The Promise. Yay! This is his best novel imo, – hands down.  It takes place mostly on a farm somewhere in rural South Africa probably around Pretoria, in the years between the 1980s and the current day or maybe a bit beyond (?) I guess.  This book covers the period through the last years of apartheid, the eventual end of that in 1994 and today’s liberal democracy.  

The central characters are the members of the Afrikaner Swarts family. There’s Ma, aka Rachel, who at age 40 and in Chapter 1, dies of cancer. Her dying wish is that someone named Salome should have the house she lives in but which legally belongs to the Schwarts’. This is impossible due to apartheid, but Amor witnesses and remembers the promise Pa makes.  

And there’s  Pa, aka Manie, who apparently has some kind of wealth but probably not so much in the early days. He seems to ignore the end of apartheid.  

Then there are the children, Astrid, Anton and Amor who grow up and have lives during the four decades of the novel. And there’s Salome who has been the family servant for the entire time Pa has owned the land they’re on.  She and Ma were close and she is friendly with Amor. Even if apartheid has no legal standing, some attitudes don’t change.  Salome and her son continue to live in the little rundown house on the Schwartz property. Over the years the Stoltz family becomes quite wealthy but Solome doesn’t get the house Amor knows she’s due. And Salome gets older while her son gets angry.

Galgut’s writing in this book doesn’t include quotation marks which sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish who is speaking or if they’re thinking and so on. Also the pronoun get fuzzy.

 The third-person narrator is quite intrusive in his own way, but not quite omniscient because he asks questions for the reader. There are only 4 chapters in the book, but the scenes switch frequently and those changes are also sometimes difficult to navigate. The narrator of the audio version is wonderful but some issues – like no notice of scene change – become a bit more problematical.

The themes are generally death, family, apartheid, changes, reparations, who should rectify past injustices, how and when. 

I really enjoyed this novel! It took awhile to get into it but I started over at Chapter 2. Then, better understanding the situation, I was quickly hooked.  

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3 Responses to The Promise ~ by Damon Galgut

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I loved it too.
    Alas, our favourite writers do tend to take a while to bring out a new book, I guess we wouldn’t like them so much if they churned out some trashy new thing every year!


  2. Pingback: Great Circle ~ by Maggie Shipstead | Becky's Books –

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