The Promise

The Promise

Next up on my list of Christmas books was The Promise by Damon Galgut, which won the Booker Prize last year. I started reading it in early February and stalled after about the first 80 pages, finding it quite a struggle to be constantly jumping in and out of so many different characters’ heads, and then I got really into it and sought out moments to finish it. Once I’d got to grips with the way Galgut uses rapidly changing point-of-view, I moved passed it and just wanted to know what happened to this family, struggling with their demons, whilst modern South Africa took shape around them.

The novel is in four parts, each centred around the death and funeral of one of the Swart family, white South African land owners, who live on a farm outside Pretoria. It starts in apartheid, when Amor, her sister Astrid and her brother Anton are young, and then moves through the decades, as the family shrinks and the country changes. Salome is the constant throughout. She is black and works in the farmhouse, and has to deal with the family’s racism. She lives in a small run-down house on the farm and is promised this house in the first section of the novel when Ma dies, a promise that Amor spends the rest of the book struggling to fulfil.

The book’s themes of violence, betrayal and shattered dreams play-out through the lives of its main characters and through the backdrop of the country’s rebirth. I finished it with the biggest storm in years raging outside, which seemed very appropriate.