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Book Cover for: The Promise: A Novel (Booker Prize Winner), Damon Galgut

The Promise: A Novel (Booker Prize Winner)

Damon Galgut

Reader Score


79% of readers

recommend this book

Critic Reviews


Based on 13 reviews on

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Winner:Booker Prize -Novel (2021)


On her deathbed, Rachel Swart makes a promise to Salome, the family's Black maid. This promise will divide the family--especially her children: Anton, the golden boy; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by feelings of guilt.

Reunited by four funerals over thirty years, the dwindling Swart family remains haunted by the unmet promise, just as their country is haunted by its own failures. The Promise is an epic South African drama that unfurls against the unrelenting march of history, sure to leave its readers transformed.

"Simply: you must read it."--Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine

★ "This tour-de-force unleashes a searing portrait of a damaged family and a troubled country in need of healing."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Book Details

  • Publisher: Europa Editions
  • Publish Date: Mar 15th, 2022
  • Pages: 272
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 8.20in - 5.50in - 1.00in - 0.58lb
  • EAN: 9781609457440
  • Categories: Family Life - SiblingsLiterarySagas

About the Author

Galgut, Damon: -

Damon Galgut was born in Pretoria. His 2003 novel The Good Doctor won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In a Strange Room (Europa, 2010) was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2021, Galgut won the Booker Prize for The Promise (Europa, 2021). In 2013, Galgut was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

Critics’ reviews

Praise for this book

★ "Galgut extends his extraordinary corpus with a rich story of family, history, and grief."--Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"This tour-de-force unleashes a searing portrait of a damaged family and a troubled country in need of healing."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Galgut's compelling new novel blends characters and history and intricate themes to reveal the devastating impacts of white privilege and institutional racism...The Promise is timely, relevant, and thematically significant."--Booklist (Starred Review)

"The novel carries within it the literary spirits of Woolf and Joyce... To praise the novel in its particulars--for its seriousness; for its balance of formal freedom and elegance; for its humor, its precision, its human truth--seems inadequate and partial. Simply: you must read it."--Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine

"Galgut's novel most closely resembles the work of predecessors like Woolf and Faulkner. The novel's beautifully peculiar narration aerates and complicates this fatal family fable, and turns plot into deep meditation... Galgut is wonderfully, Woolfianly adept."--James Wood, The New Yorker

"The plot is just the vehicle for a story that reveals the dark heart of South Africa's recent and turbulent history; apartheid, conscription, peace and reconciliation are all glossed. In The Promise is a kind of fluid narrativity which means we, the reader, are literally swept along, while Galgut pays a very direct tribute to Joyce in the final cadenced pages. He's done it with mastery, guile, and a generous amount of empathy. The Promise is a masterpiece."

"Time and again in Mr. Galgut's fiction, South Africa materializes, vast, astonishing, resonant. And on this vastness, he stages intimate dramas that have the force of ancient myth."--Anna Mundow, Wall Street Journal

"The Promise offers all the virtues of realist fiction, plus some extras. A reader can shrug it all off and focus on the family's story, or take pleasure in a brash writer's narrative norm-breaking... In comparison [to Coetzee], Galgut is a gleeful satirist, mordantly skewering his characters' fecklessness and hypocrisy."--Rand Richards Cooper, The New York Times Book Review

"This bravura novel about the undoing of a bigoted South African family during apartheid deserves awards."--The Guardian

"Riveting... Galgut's most ambitious novel to date...The Promise is different from his other books. It's more specific in its depictions of this starkly divided society, more direct in the way it approaches what has always been the country's most significant political issue, its central injustice: the land and whom it belongs to... The Promise's power lies in its measured, exacting, occasionally cruel depiction of the way the land question has irretrievably warped almost every character in the novel, whether or not they are capable of acknowledging it."--New York Review of Books

"I would hope this turns up the volume from our side and that it's heard more clearly on the other."--Los Angeles Times

"This powerful, emotionally charged novel ... charts the wayward progress and mixed fortunes of Rachel's racist husband, Manie, and their three children through subsequent decades, while simultaneously depicting a nation undergoing tumultuous change."--Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A family saga that moves from the 1980s to the present, it's a complex, ambitious and brilliant work--one that provides Galgut's fullest exploration yet of the poisonous legacy of apartheid."--Financial Times (UK)

"A South African family saga bursting with life is one of the best books of the year."--The Times (UK)

"A magisterial, heart-stopping novel."--The Times Literary Supplement

"The Promise by Damon Galgut is an exceptional book, beautifully written with characters you come to care deeply about."--BBC

"The unusual narrative style balances a kind of Faulknerian exuberance with a Nabokovian precision and is a testament to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century. The novel can best be summed up in the question: Does true justice exist in the world--and if so, what might that look like? This novel's way of tackling this question makes it an accomplishment and truly deserving of its place on the shortlist."--Chigozie Obioma, 2021 Booker Prize judge and author of The Fisherman and An Orchestra of Minorities

"The Promise is the most important book of the last ten years."--Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story and A Saint from Texas

"The Promise is close to a folk tale or the retelling of a myth about fate and loss... The story has an astonishing sense of depth, as though the characters were imagined over time, with slow tender care."--Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn

"The Promise's power and immediacy merge to create an outstanding novel of its time."--Joan Bakewell, author of All the Nice Girls and The Centre of the Bed

"The Promise recalls the great achievements of modernism in its imagistic brilliance, its caustic disenchantment, its relentless research into the human. For formal innovation and moral seriousness, Damon Galgut is very nearly without peer. He is an essential writer."--Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You

"Both tender and brutal, The Promise brilliantly illuminates how both a small family and a large world endure--or don't endure. I will remember this beautifully devastating book, its enigmatic heroine, for a long time."--Peter Cameron, author of What Happens at Night

"Galgut understands the complexities of the human heart which he reveals with the finest delicacy. This is an emotionally powerful and thrilling novel that haunts one long after it has been laid down." --Gabriel Byrne, author of Walking With Ghosts and Pictures in My Head

"If possible, The Promise packs yet more of a punch than Galgut's previous novels. Fuelled by sex and death, this is a South African Götterdämmerung charting a white family's inexorable decline from significance and power. Its indignation at its morally bankrupt central characters is leavened with languid comedy, as though Galgut had collaborated with Tennessee Williams. The effect is utterly compelling."--Patrick Gale, author of Notes from an Exhibition and A Place Called Winter

"If there is a posterity, Galgut will be seen as one of the great literary triumphs of South Africa's transition... in every way the equal of J. M. Coetzee."--Rian Malan, author of My Traitor's Heart