Damon Galgut Wins Booker Prize for ‘The Promise’


When the South African author Damon Galgut realized that his novel, “The Promise,” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, he was crammed with anxiousness. Galgut had been shortlisted twice earlier than, in 2003 and 2010, and each occasions, the stress of the nominations “probably shaved a few years off my life.”

“For a few weeks, you’re one of six winners, then all that attention gets sucked away and very, very suddenly, there’s only one winner, the rest of you are losers,” he informed the Guardian in an interview in September.

This yr was completely different. On Wednesday, the Booker judges pronounced Galgut the winner, praising his novel for its “unusual narrative style that balances Faulknerian exuberance with Nabokovian precision, pushes boundaries, and is a testament to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century.”

“The Promise,” Galgut’s ninth ebook, had already gained acclaim amongst critics for its menacing and bleakly humorous portrait of the Swart household, descendants of Dutch settlers who’re desperately holding onto their farm and standing in post-apartheid South Africa. Literary critics likened his experimental prose to modernist masters like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner, whereas others famous his debt to fellow South African author J.M. Coetzee.

A overview of “The Promise” in The New York Times Book Review referred to as Galgut “a gleeful satirist, mordantly skewering his characters’ fecklessness and hypocrisy.”

Galgut bought the thought for the novel, which Europa Editions printed within the United States in April, from a dialog with a good friend, who described going to a sequence of funerals for members of the family. It gave the impression of the right narrative automobile for a household saga. Galgut started engaged on a novel centered on a household — “just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans,” he writes — whose matriarch dies of most cancers in 1986, when South Africa was convulsing with political unrest. The novel’s title refers each to the unrealized promise of social equality after the tip of apartheid, and to the matriarch’s promise to go away a home to a Black servant, Salome, which causes a rift within the household.

He set the novel in Pretoria, the place he grew up, partly to discover the area’s darkish historical past of apartheid and racial violence and the impression that had on his childhood.

“Everything’s changed since then, and I wanted in some way to show what’s changed. I mean not only the future but also the options that are open,” Galgut stated in a June interview with the Johannesburg Review of Books, noting that as a white South African man, he was arrange able of privilege.

“The Promise” was one in every of six shortlisted novels and stood out for its artistry and scope, judges stated.

“This is a book about inheritance and legacy,” Maya Jasanoff, the chair of the 2021 judges, stated in a information convention on Wednesday. “It’s a book that invites reflection over the decades.”

American authors as soon as once more dominated the shortlist this yr, accounting for three of the finalists. They have been Richard Powers for “Bewilderment,” Maggie Shipstead for “Great Circle,” and Patricia Lockwood for “No One Is Talking About This.”

The different authors have been the Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam for “A Passage North,” in regards to the lingering trauma from his nation’s civil warfare, and the British and Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed for “The Fortune Men,” a few Somali man falsely accused of homicide in Wales.

The Booker Prize is awarded yearly to the very best novel written in English and printed in Britain or Ireland, and was chosen this yr from 158 submitted novels. Last yr, the award went to Douglas Stuart for “Shuggie Bain,” his autobiographical debut novel about rising up in Scotland with an alcoholic mom. In 2019, breaking with custom, the prize was awarded collectively to Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood.

Since 2014, the prize has been open to any novel written in English and printed in Britain. Previously, it was restricted to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth.

Galgut is the third author from South Africa to win the Booker, following Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee, who has gained twice. Galgut started writing at a younger age, and fell in love with books as a toddler, when he was bedridden with lymphoma and members of the family learn to him to maintain him occupied.

He printed his debut novel, “A Sinless Season,” in 1982, when he was simply 17. His novel “The Good Doctor,” printed in England in 2003, was shortlisted for the Booker that yr and gained the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He made the Booker shortlist once more in 2010 for “In A Strange Room,” a novel about an alienated South African traveler named Damon, which straddled the road between fiction and memoir and prompted a debate over whether or not it ought to be eligible for a fiction prize.

In the run-up to the 2010 Booker Prize, Galgut was jaded about his prospects. Asked by The Paris Review if he had realized something from his earlier expertise on the shortlist, he stated, “I’m approaching it with the knowledge of how awful it all is, which will hopefully make it less awful.”