Hailed as ‘an extraordinary story’, The Promise tracks the path of an unhonoured vow through the tumultuous landscape of South African history
In an outcome predicted by literary pundits everywhere, Damon Galgut has been awarded the Man Booker prize for his extraordinary novel The Promise.
Commenting on the decision, chair of this year’s Booker judges , historian Maya Jasanoff, said, “We felt among the judges that 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 incredible well-wrought package. For me, The Promise manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling – it has great ideas, 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.”
Chronicling the decline of the Swart family on their farm outside Pretoria, The Promise visits four family funerals which take place over the course of four decades starting in 1986. Following a deathbed vow that the family’s black servant, Salome, be given ownership of a house on the Swart property, the story tracks the progress of this promise over the years as the family again and again fail to honour it, with each successive visit to their world providing a glimpse of the country’s ever-changing social and political landscapes.
Born in Pretoria, Galgut is the author of nine novels and four plays. Two of his works, The Good Doctor and In a Strange Room, were previously shortlisted for the Booker, while his eighth book, Arctic Summer, took home the 2015 Sunday Times Fiction Prize.
The author described the Swart family in an interview as an amalgamation of everything he grew up with in Pretoria.
“They’re a mix of English and Afrikaans, and a hodgepodge 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.”
Accepting the £50,000 prize at the ceremony on Wednesday, Galgut said “This has been a great year for African writing. I’d like to accept this on behalf of all the stories told and untold, the writers heard and unheard from the remarkable continent that I come from.”
Galgut is the third South African to win the coveted prize, following J.M Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. The Promise is published my Umuzi and Chatto & Windus.