Damon Galgut Wins Booker Prize for ‘The Promise’

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The novelist, shortlisted for 2 of his erstwhile books, received 1 of the world’s astir prestigious literate awards for his cutting depiction of a achromatic household successful post-apartheid South Africa.

Damon Galgut successful  London past  month. He is this year’s Booker Prize victor  for his caller   “The Promise.”
Credit...Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Nov. 3, 2021, 3:53 p.m. ET

When the South African writer Damon Galgut learned that his novel, “The Promise,” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, helium was filled with anxiety. Galgut had been shortlisted doubly before, successful 2003 and 2010, and some times, the accent of the nominations “probably shaved a fewer years disconnected my life.”

“For a fewer weeks, you’re 1 of six winners, past each that attraction gets sucked distant and very, precise suddenly, there’s lone 1 winner, the remainder of you are losers,” helium told the Guardian successful an interrogation successful September.

This twelvemonth was different. On Wednesday, the Booker judges pronounced Galgut the winner, praising his caller for its “unusual communicative benignant that balances Faulknerian exuberance with Nabokovian precision, pushes boundaries, and is simply a testament to the flourishing of the caller successful the 21st century.”

“The Promise,” Galgut’s ninth book, had already won acclaim among critics for its menacing and bleakly comic representation of the Swart family, descendants of Dutch settlers who are desperately holding onto their workplace and presumption successful post-apartheid South Africa. Literary critics likened his experimental prose to modernist masters similar Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner, portion others noted his indebtedness to chap South African writer J.M. Coetzee.


A reappraisal of “The Promise” successful The New York Times Book Review called Galgut “a gleeful satirist, mordantly skewering his characters’ fecklessness and hypocrisy.”

Galgut got the thought for the novel, which Europa Editions published successful the United States successful April, from a speech with a friend, who described going to a bid of funerals for household members. It sounded similar the cleanable communicative conveyance for a household saga. Galgut began moving connected a caller centered connected a household — “just an mean clump of achromatic South Africans,” helium writes — whose matriarch dies of crab successful 1986, erstwhile South Africa was convulsing with governmental unrest. The novel’s rubric refers some to the unrealized committedness of societal equality aft the extremity of apartheid, and to the matriarch’s committedness to permission a location to a Black servant, Salome, which causes a rift successful the family.

He acceptable the caller successful Pretoria, wherever helium grew up, successful portion to research the region’s acheronian past of apartheid and radical unit and the interaction that had connected his childhood.

“Everything’s changed since then, and I wanted successful immoderate mode to amusement what’s changed. I mean not lone the aboriginal but besides the options that are open,” Galgut said in a June interrogation with the Johannesburg Review of Books, noting that arsenic a achromatic South African man, helium was acceptable up successful a presumption of privilege.

“The Promise” was 1 of six shortlisted novels and stood retired for its artistry and scope, judges said.

“This is simply a publication astir inheritance and legacy,” Maya Jasanoff, the seat of the 2021 judges, said successful a quality league connected Wednesday. “It’s a publication that invites reflection implicit the decades.”

American authors erstwhile again dominated the shortlist this year, accounting for 3 of the finalists. They were Richard Powers for “Bewilderment,” Maggie Shipstead for “Great Circle,” and Patricia Lockwood for “No One Is Talking About This.”

The different authors were the Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam for “A Passage North,” astir the lingering trauma from his country’s civilian war, and the British and Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed for “The Fortune Men,” astir a Somali antheral falsely accused of execution successful Wales.


Credit...Tom Nicholson/Reuters

The Booker Prize is awarded annually to the champion caller written successful English and published successful Britain oregon Ireland, and was selected this twelvemonth from 158 submitted novels. Last year, the grant went to Douglas Stuart for “Shuggie Bain,” his autobiographical debut caller astir increasing up successful Scotland with an alcoholic mother. In 2019, breaking with tradition, the prize was awarded jointly to Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood.

Explore the 2021 Booker Prize Shortlist

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What is the Booker Prize? The Booker Prize is awarded each twelvemonth to the champion caller written successful English and published successful Britain oregon Ireland. Learn much astir the six novels shortlisted this year:

Since 2014, the prize has been unfastened to immoderate caller written successful English and published successful Britain. Previously, it was constricted to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth.

Galgut is the 3rd writer from South Africa to triumph the Booker, pursuing Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee, who has won twice. Galgut began penning astatine a young age, and fell successful emotion with books arsenic a child, erstwhile helium was bedridden with lymphoma and household members work to him to support him occupied.

He published his debut novel, “A Sinless Season,” successful 1982, erstwhile helium was conscionable 17. His caller “The Good Doctor,” published successful England successful 2003, was shortlisted for the Booker that twelvemonth and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He made the Booker shortlist again successful 2010 for “In A Strange Room,” a caller astir an alienated South African traveler named Damon, which straddled the enactment betwixt fabrication and memoir and prompted a statement implicit whether it should beryllium eligible for a fabrication prize.

In the run-up to the 2010 Booker Prize, Galgut was jaded astir his prospects. Asked by The Paris Review if helium had learned thing from his erstwhile acquisition connected the shortlist, helium said, “I’m approaching it with the cognition of however atrocious it each is, which volition hopefully marque it little awful.”

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