South African Damon Galgut receives Booker Prize for The Promise

His book traces, over a series of funerals, the breakup of a white family in post-apartheid South Africa.

South African author Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize, a prestigious British literary prize, on Wednesday evening for The Promise, a book about the time that passes in a white farming family in post-apartheid South Africa. “I am deeply, humbly grateful”said the 57-year-old winner, a third-time Booker Prize finalist. Moved, he greeted a “Great year for African writing”, marked by the Nobel Prize for Literature of Abdulrazak Gurnah, Briton born in Zanzibar.

“It’s a process that will continue” and “People will take African writing a little more seriously”, warned Damon Galgut at a press conference, “There is a lot of great writing coming from us”. Upon receiving the award, the author, who was among the favorites among the six finalists, stressed that he wanted to accept it for “All the stories that have been told and the ones that have not”, writers, recognized or not, “Of this remarkable continent”.

Covering the period from the end of apartheid until the presidency of Jacob Zuma, his book, The Promise, traces, over a series of funerals, the gradual dislocation of a white family in Pretoria as the country emerges towards democracy. The president of the jury, the historian Maya Jasanoff, underlined the“originality” and the “Incredible fluidity of voices” of the work, “A dense book, with historical and metaphorical significance”.

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the New Yorker qualified The Promise of “remarkable”, while the Sunday Times South Africa ruled “Amazing to see how much history Galgut manages to put in this short novel”. In a video released before the announcement of the result, the author explained that he wanted to show in this book “The passage of time and what it does to the family, what it does to the country’s politics and what it does to notions of justice”.

“How time flies”

The real subject of the book is “Time and how time flies”. If a message was to be remembered, “It would be that mortality is what underlies all our lives”, “We all age and everything changes as time goes by”. Broadcast on the BBC, the ceremony brought together all the finalists in person, after video conference appearances in the previous edition, due to restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

The six books selected for the final had been selected by the five jurors from among 158 novels published in the United Kingdom or Ireland between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. They included the American Patricia Lockwood, in the running for No One is talking About This, which puts the tragedy of a lifetime in front of “Absurdity” social networks, as well as two of his compatriots: Richard Powers (Bewilderment, in which an astrobiologist escapes to fantastic worlds as he helps his troubled son) and Maggie Shipstead (Great Circle, which takes readers through the intertwining journeys of a 20th century aviator and a 21st century Hollywood star).

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The other finalists were Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam, 33, with A passage North, which evokes trauma and memories of the civil war in Sri Lanka and British-Somali woman Nadifa Mohamed, 40, for The Fortune Men, based on the true story of a Somali man wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a woman in Cardiff harbor in Wales in 1952.

Last year, the prize was awarded to the Scotsman Douglas Stuart for his first novel Shuggie Bath, which takes place in a working-class family in Glasgow plagued by alcoholism and poverty in the 1980s. Launched in 1969, the Booker Prize annually recognizes the author of the Best Novel Written in English. The winner wins a prize of 50,000 pounds (around 55,000 euros) and the assurance of international fame.

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South African Damon Galgut receives Booker Prize for The Promise

Hank Gilbert