Reviews of The Promise by Damon Galgut

The Promise

by Damon Galgut

The Promise by Damon Galgut X
The Promise by Damon Galgut
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

A modern family saga that could only have come from South Africa, written in gorgeous prose by twice 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—an atmosphere 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.

Excerpt
The Promise

The moment the metal box speaks her name, Amor knows it's happened. She's been in a tense, headachy mood all day, almost like she had a warning in a dream but can't remember what it is. Some sign or image, just under the surface. Trouble down below. Fire underground.

But when the words are said to her aloud, she doesn't believe them. She closes her eyes and shakes her head. No, no. It can't be true, what her aunt has just told her. Nobody is dead. It's a word, that's all. She looks at the word, lying there on the desk like an insect on its back, with no explanation.

This is in Miss Starkey's office, where the voice over the Tannoy told her to go. Amor has been waiting and waiting for this moment for so long, has imagined it so many times, that it already seems like a fact. But now that the moment has really come, it feels far away and dreamy. It hasn't happened, not actually. And especially not to Ma, who will always, always be alive.

I'm sorry, Miss Starkey ...

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  • award image

    Booker Prize
    2021

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Despite the novel's relatively weighty theme, the book doesn't read like its subject is a heavy one; it's only after pondering the subtext that it becomes apparent that its ultimate message is somewhat pessimistic. Indeed, it's actually pretty funny at times, partially due to Galgut's brilliant depiction of the incredibly dysfunctional Swart family, all of whom, apart from Amor, are unlikeable to one degree or another. They engender no sympathy in the reader, making it easier to laugh at their failings. The truly outstanding feature of this novel, though, is its narrator, who sometimes seems to be omniscient, and at other times feigns ignorance or admits to imagining whole scenes. The voice comes across as conversational — gossipy and critical of the family without explicitly calling them out as the self-centered jerks readers come to know...continued

Full Review Members Only (722 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New Yorker
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.

The Guardian (UK)
This bravura novel about the undoing of a bigoted South African family during apartheid deserves awards.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
A magisterial, heart-stopping novel.

Booklist (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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Galgut's multifarious writing style is bold and unusual, providing an initial barrier to entry yet achieving an intuitive logic over time...Galgut extends his extraordinary corpus with a rich story of family, history, and grief.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the keenly observant Galgut offers a deeply affecting family saga spanning decades of upheaval in South Africa...This tour-de-force unleashes a searing portrait of a damaged family and a troubled country in need of healing.

Author Blurb Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn
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.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
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.

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

Reader Reviews

Kaz

Same old same old
I understand the issues for both black and white people's in South Africa. Trauma, violence, financial hardship lies and cruelty. This story has been done to death. It is an average writing style and again like "In a Strange Room" ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Apartheid and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1999 Damon Galgut's novel The Promise is set in South Africa during the dismantling of the country's apartheid system. In this period, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to deal with the after-effects of apartheid, and the body is mentioned several times throughout the book.

After the National Party took power in South Africa in 1948, they installed an all-white government and began to legislate a system that codified existing racial inequities into law and built on a history of racist policies. This system became known as apartheid (meaning "apartness" in Afrikaans), a word used as a campaign slogan/promise during the election that put the National Party in control. Over time, the restrictions and abuses ...

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Readalikes

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More books by Damon Galgut

If you liked The Promise, try these:

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    A compelling, thought-provoking novel about race, bullying and the need to belong, set in Africa.

  • Skinner's Drift jacket

    Skinner's Drift

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    Published 2006

    About this book

    In this beautiful first novel set in South Africa, Lisa Fugard paints a haunting portrait of a family careering toward disaster, moving with extraordinary agility between intimate and revelatory domestic scenes and the fiercely challenging land.

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