The Promise | Damon Galgut #BookerPrize

The Promise | Damon Galgut (2021)

Lately I have been struggling with the how, what, when, where and why of blogging.

Some minor health issues have been impacting everyday life, work is exhausting me and I never seem to have enough time. But I am still reading! So that’s a bright spot. Trying to pull my thoughts together coherently feels out of my reach right now. To get me through, what I hope is just a phase, I will fall back onto a note/quote style of book response for a while, to keep track of what I have read.


This morning I met a woman with a golden nose.
She was riding in a Cadillac with a monkey in her arms.
Her driver stopped and she asked me, “Are you Fellini?”
With this metallic voice she continued,
“Why is it that in your movies, there is not even one normal person?”
(my highlight)

Federico Fellini

Wikipedia: “Fellini’s films are a unique combination of memory, dreams, fantasy and desire.”

Over the years he has inspired many artists and creatives, including the makers of the TV series Northern Exposure. This was one of my FAVOURITE programs of the early 1990’s. No normal people lived in this fictional Alaskan town.

In a 1966 interview, Fellini said, “I make it a point to see if certain ideologies or political attitudes threaten the private freedom of the individual. But for the rest, I am not prepared nor do I plan to become interested in politics.” I include this quote because I suspect this is a philosophy or approach to politics that Galgut would agree with.

There are four sections in The Promise. Each one corresponds to a specific period of South African politics – from President Botha’s State of Emergency (Spring 1986) to Mandela’s presidency & the Rugby world cup victory (Winter 1995), Mbeki’s inauguration (Autumn 2004) and Jacob Zuma’s eventual resignation (Summer 2018). Each section also corresponds with the death of one of the family Swart.

Opening Lines:

The moment the metal box speaks her name, she 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.


  • October Book Club choice
  • Winner 2021 Booker Prize
  • Damon Galgut was born 12 November 1963 in Pretoria
  • His father is Jewish & his mother converted to Judaism
  • At six years of age he was disgnosed with lymphoma
  • His first novel, A Sinless Season (1982), was published when he was just 17

Writing Habits:

  • Neo-modernist

Neomodernism has been cited in law as applying to an approach which grants economic rights to indigenous peoples, but without restricting them to their traditional economic activities. Neomodernism recognizes the importance of the human side of organizations. People and their needs are put at the center and, with the recognition that the values and beliefs of people both shape and are shaped by their experiences of organizational life, comes an interest in areas such as organizational culture, leadership and management.

McAuley John, Diberley and Johnson (2007)
  • Love of stationery

I’m really, really old-fashioned and probably kind of backward. I work longhand with a fountain pen in a notebook, and I’ll do that for four or five drafts before I’ll put it in the computer. They make these marvelous hand-bound notebooks in India and I always bring back a stack of them to work in. I’m a bit of a Luddite with technology. I don’t have a television. I do have a computer, but I use it as a sophisticated typewriter.

An Interview with Damon Galgut

Favourite Quote:

For there is nothing unusual or remarkable about the Swart family, oh no, they resemble the family from the next farm and the one beyond that, just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans, and if you don’t believe it then listen to us speak. We sound no different from other voices, we sound the same and we tell the same stories, in an accent squashed underfoot, all the consonants decapitated and the vowels stove in.

A Few Notes About the Book:

I had heard that The Promise was grim, dark & disturbing. Certainly it is not a happy story, or an easy story, it’s more grey than grim, though.

  • Despite the quote above, this is not a normal family, or a happy family – think Tolstoy “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  • Moral ambiguities – who gets to decide what is right or wrong?
  • Family dysfunction & societal dysfunction
  • Inheritance issues – honouring the dead, their wishes and memory
  • Different ways of dying – illness, snake bite, violence/murder, suicide
  • The difficulty of effecting any meaningful change, despite good intentions
  • Greed, ineptitude, cronyism in politics whether white or black
  • How do you give up a lifetime of privilege?
  • The long-lingering effects of colonialism – the impossibility of going back – how to move forward together?
  • Salome and her son, Lukas remain unknown. They are not really seen by the white characters. Their voice is not heard.
  • What is the significance of Amor being struck by lightning as a child?

Favourite Character:

  • Amor, the youngest sister who overheard the original promise and tries to hold the family to account at each and every stage.

Favourite or Forget:

  • Interesting
  • A great book club book with lots of meaty discussion topics to get stuck into.
  • I enjoyed his writing style once I got into it – happy to try more.
  • Which is handy as I have Arctic Summer (2014) on my TBR, Galgut’s biofiction about E. M. Forster.

Community Reviews:

Title: The Promise
Author: Damon Galgut
ISBN: 9781529113877
Imprint: Vintage
Published: 12 April 2022 (originally published May 2021)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Datets Read: 25 September 2022 - 4 October 2022
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

18 thoughts on “The Promise | Damon Galgut #BookerPrize

    1. Our meeting is tomorrow night & I’m curious to see what everyone thinks.
      I’ve added your link above as well now, I see I was waiting to finish the book before reading your review, so i will head off and do that know 🙂


        1. The Promise had mixed responses at book club Sue.

          Generally it was considered a good book for discussion but with unlikeable characters and a challenging writing style, some found it unenjoyable and not a book they would recommend.

          The other half, while still not liking the characters, found the writing style fascinating and enjoyed digging into what Galgut was trying to achieve. I suspect we will have a similar divide with the November book, This Devastating Fever, although the characters are generally more likeable in TDF, the genre/style is unusual.

          One of the women mentioned that her husband is also in a book group (all older men) that had read The Promise a few months before us. Apparently they all hated it with most of them not even finishing it. Mr Books also started it last year, but didn’t like the writing and stopped (which is VERY rare for him).


          1. Fascinating Brona … this was a rare occasion where we all liked the book, even though most of the characters were not likeable. I was a bit surprised actually. We also had an almost full house with 11 of our 12 members present. We all liked the writing despite or because of its trickiness. And we all saw humour (satire and irony) in it. Our South African born member said it was spot on.


  1. On my reading list for the autumn. I did start it a while ago but put to one side because I wasn’t in the right mood. From what I remember, the narrative isn’t linear?


    1. That’s correct, Galgut also manages to use first, second and third person – sometimes within the one paragraph! So it does keep you on your toes. A few times, sudden jumps in time or place or who was talking also changed mid-paragraph. A kind of literary gymnastics!


    1. I have some good friends who are South African, so I was ‘in tune’ with these events thanks to them, but I hadn’t picked up on the seasonal nature of each section (except for the one that talked about the jacaranda blossoms – my favourite tree) until I read another review.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always find when I’ve entered a “blogging dip”…making a list of books
    for the new year (2023) cheers me up! I’d love to see what books you have purchased in 2021 or 2022…that are still on your TBR! I did this exercise last week and tallied 120 boos!! Keep reading….keep the reviews short (KISS) and you’ll get through the next few months! XO

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The time factor is keeping me from book thinking time and also stopping me from making lists too! But in a fit of hopefulness I’ve started a couple of the non-fiction Nov posts and some of my Voss posts for the readalong. Now I just need to finish the five outstanding review posts before the end of this month.


    1. I agree, I’ve been here before too. Tiredness and brain fog are the real problem though atm. I need them to pass as that is what’s holding me back from blogging properly. Perimenopause has been the hard slog!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 2022 | The Books
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