South African novelist Damon Galgut has won the prestigious Booker prize for The Promise, the story of a white South African family confronting the end of apartheid.
The chair of this year’s panel of Booker judges, Maya Jasanoff, said of the selection: “The Promise astonished us from the outset as a penetrating and incredibly well-constructed account of a white South African family navigating the end of apartheid and its aftermath. On each reading we felt that the book grew. With an almost deceptive narrative economy, it offers moving insights into generational divides; meditates on what makes a fulfilling life — and how to process death; and explores the capacious metaphorical implications of ‘promise’ in relation to modern South Africa.”
Set over the course of four funerals, each taking place in a different decade, The Promise follows the Swarts, a white South African family who live on a farm outside Pretoria, and the promise they make – and fail to keep – to give land to the black woman who worked for them her entire life.
Despite its bleak outlook and heavy subject matter, author Galgut said that it was important that there be humor in the book, as well: “I don’t think I would have wanted to spend four years writing a book that was pulling me down. Humour opened up a way for me to write about the human side of things, because the book’s not really about the death, it’s about the living.”
The Booker Prize (formerly known as the Man Booker Prize) is a literary prize awarded each year for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Former winners include Iris Murdoch, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel; last year the award was given to Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart for his novel, Shuggie Bain.