Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize for his portrayal of a white South African family sailing towards the end of apartheid. The judges hailed The Promise as “a spectacular demonstration of how the novel can make us see and think again”, and compared it to the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.
This is the first time that Galgut will walk away with the £ 50,000 prize, although he has been shortlisted twice before. The Promise is his ninth novel and his first in seven years. He becomes the third South African to win the prestigious Fiction Prize, after JM Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. Through the prism of four sequential funerals, each taking place in a different decade, The Promise follows the Swarts, a white South African family who live on a farm outside of Pretoria. The title promise is one the Swarts make – and fail to keep over the years – to give a home and land to the black woman who has worked for them her entire life.
The novel is, according to Judges Booker, “a strong and unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself which can best be summed up by the question: Does true justice exist? in this world?
“We felt among the judges that this book is truly a tour de force. It combines extraordinary history with rich themes – the history of the past 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-crafted package, ”said Judges Booker, historian Maya Jasanoff. “Before we even started talking about individual titles, we had a larger discussion about what we think makes a book a winner. One of the judges made a distinction between the very good and the great. For me, The Promise manages to bring together the qualities of great storytelling – it’s a book that has a lot to chew on – with remarkable attention to structure and literary style. With every reading of this book, it revealed something new.
Galgut, who grew up in Pretoria, where The Promise takes place, and now lives in Cape Town, described the Swart family as “a kind of amalgamation of everything I grew up with in Pretoria”.
“They are a mixture of English and Afrikaans, and a mishmash of beliefs and beliefs too. Not unusual for this part of the world. But what makes them “representative” isn’t their characters, it’s the moments they experience, “he said in an interview for the Booker Prize.
Receiving the award, Galgut said: “It has been a great year for African writing. I would like to accept this on behalf of all the stories told and not told, writers have heard and not heard of the remarkable continent I come from.
He added: “I hope people take African writing a little more seriously now.”
Galgut said it was important to him that the book be funny. The Promise deals with the “heavy themes” of “burials, death, decay and dereliction … I don’t think I would have wanted to spend four years writing a book that pulled me down. L he humor has allowed me to write about the human side of things, because the book isn’t really about death, but about the living.
The structure of the Promise is formally inventive, the narrative changing perspective; Booker Justices called it “an unusual storytelling style [which is] a testimony to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century ”. Galgut said that as he began to write The Promise “in a much more traditional way,” some work in between writing a film script helped him realize “that the narrator could behave like a camera, come closer and then suddenly withdraw away, jumping from one character to another in the middle of a scene, or even a sentence, or as a result of a side action that has nothing to do with it. ‘plot.
“In movies, the point of view jumps and changes all the time – why not in a novel? I was very excited by the realization, because it freed me from the constraints of tradition, and allowed me to unleash the cacophony of voices that always seem to jostle inside, wanting to be heard ” , said the author, who was previously shortlisted for The Booker in 2003 for The Good Doctor, and in 2010 with In a Strange Room.
The idea to organize the novel around four funerals came after a “half-drunk afternoon listening to a friend describe the funerals of his parents, brother and sister,” he said. at the Guardian. “The playwright in me saw the potential to stage a family story in four acts, each centered around a funeral. And though each act took place in a different decade, with a different president in power, I saw a way to show the nation behind the family and give a taste of the times.
Jasanoff said that “Galgut’s“ close examination of family, place and the dysfunctions that connect them ”reminded the panel of Faulkner. Woolf, meanwhile, was referred to as his “skillful inhabiting the consciousnesses of different characters”.
“All of this he does with a sensibility, artistry and scope all of his own,” said Jasanoff, who was joined on the jury by writers Horatia Harrod and Chigozie Obioma, actor Natascha McElhone and writer and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. “As a spectacular demonstration of how the novel can make us see and think again, The Promise keeps its promises. It is a book about legacies, those we inherit and those we leave behind, and by awarding it this year’s Booker Prize, we hope it will resonate with readers in the decades to come.
While the judges were unanimous in their decision to award the Booker to Galgut, Jasanoff said they had “a lot of admiration” for the other five novels on the list: No One Is Talking About This by the first novelist. American Patricia Lockwood, British-Somali The Fortune Men by author Nadifa Mohamed, Great Circle by American Maggie Shipstead, A Passage North by Tamil Sri Lankan novelist Anuk Arudpragasam and Bewilderment by American novelist Richard Powers. “These are books that we really believe in and which we believe deserve their place on the shortlist,” Jasanoff said. “We certainly gave them all a good review. “
Last year, the Booker Prize was won by Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart for his first novel, Suggie Bain, based on Stuart’s own experiences of growing up in poverty in the 1980s in Glasgow.