WINNER OF THE 2021 BOOKER PRIZE
A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE
A modern family saga written in gorgeous prose by three-time Booker Prize-shortlisted author Damon Galgut.
Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa; Anton, the golden boy who bitterly resents his life’s unfulfilled potential; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by a nebulous feeling of guilt.
Reunited by four funerals over three decades, the dwindling family reflects the atmosphere of its country—one of resentment, renewal, and, ultimately, hope. The Promise is an epic drama that unfurls against the unrelenting march of national history, sure to please current fans and attract many new ones.
“Simply: you must read it.”—Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
A family farm becomes a microcosm for postapartheid South Africa in this powerful novel, winner of the 2021 Booker Prize. As apartheid starts to come to a chaotic end in 1990, the dying matriarch of the wealthy Swart family convinces her husband to give their faithful maid, Salome, the house she’s been renting on the family’s property. Over the course of the next three decades, that promise remains unfulfilled, until the youngest of the Swart family’s three children tries to honor her mother’s wishes. South African author Damon Galgut’s story explores how his country has continued to betray its Black population. His poetic flow effortlessly switches perspectives from one member of the deeply flawed Swart family to another—and pulls no punches detailing the injustices that have persisted in South Africa long after state-enforced segregation technically ended. The Promise is a powerful story of hope, fear, and the inevitability of change.
Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the keenly observant Galgut (Arctic Summer) offers a deeply affecting family saga spanning decades of upheaval in South Africa. The promise referenced by the title, made but never kept, is first overheard in fragments by preteen Amor, youngest daughter of the white Swarts family, when her father vows to Amor's dying mother that he would bequeath a house on their property to their Black maid, Salome. Ten years later, Amor reunites with her vain sister, Astrid, and unpredictable brother, Anton, after their father suffers a fatal snakebite. Amor has not forgotten the promise, and Anton, an army deserter with grandiose plans to write a novel, assures Amor he will follow through after having inherited the house himself. A decade later, tension brews between the siblings as Astrid and Anton resist Amor's calls to legally transfer the property to Salome, who now lives in it. Galgut's astounding prose effortlessly navigates the roiling thoughts of his characters (Astrid, on her boredom: "That's my life, she thinks, miles and miles of brown grass"; Anton, meanwhile, looks "for something... searching and searching, but fucked if he can remember what for"). He's an expert at voices, stealthily examining the world from the inside out and engaging the reader with inventive triangulation, such as the omniscient narrator's sudden mocking of Anton's habit of repeating himself ("Did I ever tell you about, Yes, you did, actually, so shut the fuck up"). This tour-de-force unleashes a searing portrait of a damaged family and a troubled country in need of healing.
Best novel I have read since Goon Squad. Brilliant prose. Narrator shifts perspective until it feels he’s captured the whole world. Funny and just beautiful.
The Promise: Spoiler Alert
A sad story about a dysfunctional white family in South Africa over a 30 year period. The characters seemed shallow, synthetic, and simplistic. The white family children Anton and Astrid were portrayed as spoiled, rich kids who wasted their lives while their little sister Amor was portrayed as an unfulfilled martyr wanting to make sure the black slave Salome inherited the shack on the family property where she lived and worked with her son Lukas. Amor overheard her mother’s dying wish and her father’s promise to give the house to Salome….soon forgotten and ignored by all except Amor…for the next 30 years. The snake business seemed appropriate for the family, and dishonest Pa dying from a snake bite was definitely poetic justice. Horrible and untimely deaths of all except Amor seemed to suggest that they got what they deserved for being so selfish and unwilling to keep Pa’s promise. Hopefully, Salome will get the property and the funds from Amor, but the ending was left hanging on that as Amor climbs down from the roof to go to town with shallow Desiree. I’m left hoping lightning doesn’t strike twice before Amor can fulfill her promise.
Moving story, uniquely told.