Brutal emotional truths hit home in Damon Galgut’s deft, powerful story of a diminished family and a troubled land.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks, deliciously lethal in its observation of the crash and burn of a white South African family. On their farm outside Pretoria, the Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation detests everything the family stands for, not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land, yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The 2021 Booker Prize
Published by
Chatto & Windus
Publication date
Damon Galgut

Damon Galgut

About the Author

Damon Galgut is a South African playwright and novelist, who wrote his first novel aged 17. He's been shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize and won in 2021 for his ninth book, The Promise.
More about Damon Galgut

Let me say this has been a great year for African writing, and I'd like to accept this on behalf of all the stories told and untold, the writers heard and unheard, from the remarkable continent I'm part of. Please keep listening to us, there's a lot more to come

— Damon Galgut, accepting the Booker Prize, November 3 2021

Listen to an extract from The Promise

Award-winning audiobook narrator Peter Noble brings Damon Galgut’s The Promise to life.

The cover of the audiobook for Damon Galgut's The Promise on an orange background.

The original idea came from a conversation with a friend, who’s the last surviving member of his family

Damon Galgut and Peter Cameron discuss The Promise

In this event for Europa Editions, Damon Galgut speaks with Peter Cameron, author of What Happens at Night

‘When I finished my previous book, Arctic Summer, it didn’t feel to me as if I had another book in me,’ says Galgut in response to how he came to write The Promise. ‘It took a while to kind of dig into myself and find what it was I wanted to say next. ‘

See him read from The Promise, and discuss the genesis for the book and his characters, in the video below.

Damon Galgut speaking while looking to the left.

In The Promise, Damon Galgut makes a strong, unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself that can best be summed up in the question: does true justice exist in this world?

With The Promise, Galgut’s latest novel, he joins, indisputably, the ranks of other great South African writers

The judges on The Promise

The Promise is an expansive family novel that explores the interconnected relationships between members of one family through the sequential lens of multiple funerals. Death assumes here both a closing but also an opening into lives lived. It is an 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. In The Promise, Damon Galgut makes a strong, unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself that can best be summed up in the question: does true justice exist in this world? The novel’s way of tackling this question is what makes it an accomplishment and truly deserving of its place on the shortlist.’

Chigozie Obioma, 2021 Booker Prize judge

Chigozie Obioma

Reading Guide: Ideas to explore

When reading The Promise, you could explore:

  • The ‘promise’ of the title is both a literal one and a figurative one about the characters’, or the country’s, potential. Can you explore that idea?

  • What do you make of the narrator’s voice: the way it shifts and swoops and becomes almost like a movie camera with its alternating perspectives?

  • How does the Swart family stand for what is happening more broadly in South Africa?

  • Discuss the supernatural elements of the book

  • Towards the end we are faced with the question, not only of whether the original promise can be kept, but whether it was a flawed promise all along. Where do you stand?

Cover of The Promise by Damon Galgut on an orange background.

Other nominated books by Damon Galgut

In a Strange Room
The Good Doctor