Damon Galgut’s ‘The Promise’ wins Booker Prize for fiction



Sun, 07 Nov 2021 - 03:19 GMT


Sun, 07 Nov 2021 - 03:19 GMT


CAIRO - 7 November 2021: Damon Galgut won English literature’s most coveted fiction prize last night with his ninth novel, The Promise. It is third time lucky for the 57-year-old South African, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2003 and 2010. He is the first South African to win the prize since JM Coetzee in 1999.

The Promise is his ninth book and follows the decline of one South African family over four decades from the apartheid era to the present day. Structured around four funerals, The Promise tells the story of the Swarts, an “ordinary bunch of white South Africans” navigating the effects of profound political and social change that will ultimately consume them. Threaded through the novel, which is narrated from multiple perspectives, is the yet-to-be-fulfilled death-bed promise made to the family’s black maid that becomes a kind of curse.

The author said he was "really profoundly, humbly grateful" for the award.

Galgut, who grew up in Pretoria where The Promise is set, said the idea for the structure of the novel came from a semi-drunken discussion with a friend who told him about a series of funerals he had witnessed. “It occurred to me that it would be a novel and interesting way of approaching a family saga,” Galgut told the BBC in a recent interview. “If the only thing you had was a small window that opened on to these four funerals and you didn’t get the full trajectory of the family story, as a reader you’d have to fill in those gaps yourself.”

But he said his win was a sign that more attention was being paid to African literature.

"The fact that the Nobel Prize winner this year came from Africa, the fact that the Booker has gone to an African, would suggest that the volume is going up on Africa," he said.

"I hope that's a process that will continue and that people will take African writing a little more seriously, because there's a lot of great writing coming from us."

The Promise was widely praised when it was published in the UK in June, with The Guardian calling it "stunning", The Sunday Times describing it as "bleak but superbly narrated" and The Financial Times declaring it "a complex, ambitious, brilliant work".

The award of the £50,000 prize makes it third time lucky for Galgut who had twice been previously shortlisted. He is the third South African author — after Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, who has won it twice — to take the prize which is open to all works of literary fiction written in English.

Coronavirus precautions forced the Booker organisers to forgo the traditional grand prize ceremony and dinner for the second year running and opt for a remote event staged at the BBC and broadcast internationally.

The other shortlisted novels were: A Passage North by AnukArudpragasam; No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood; The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed; Bewilderment by Richard Powers; and Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.

Last year's Booker Prize was won by Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain. The Scottish author said the victory "changed everything for me", with the novel shooting up best-seller lists as a result and now being adapted into a TV series.



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