Damon Galgut’s The Promise wins the 2021 Booker Prize

The South African author has won the Booker Prize for his novel about a family in crisis, after his third shortlisting since 2003.

A photograph of Damon Galgut side-by-side with the cover of The Promise
Damon Galgut. Image: Penguin

Damon Galgut is this year’s Booker Prize winner for his ninth novel, The Promise. The novel, which centres on a white South African family thrown into crisis following the death of the mother, was Galgut’s third to be shortlisted for the £50,000 fiction prize.

The Promise is set on a farm in Pretoria. Salome, a Black woman who has worked for the Swart family for her whole life, was promised emancipation through access to her own house and land. However, in the wake of Ma’s death, the promise remains unfulfilled.

The judges said: "We found a book that is a real master of form and uses the form in new ways."

Accepting the award, Galgut said: "It's taken a long while to get here, and now that I have, I kind of feel that I shouldn't be here. This could just as easily have gone to any of the other amazing, talented people on this list, and a few others who aren't. 

"But seeing as the good fortune's fallen to me, let me say it's 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 that I'm part of."

Clara Farmer, Publishing Director of Chatto & Windus, said: "Damon Galgut has had his fair share of Booker shortlistings, and the exquisite agonies that come with the accolade – so it’s a particular pleasure to see him celebrate this winning moment. The third time really was the charm!

“The endorsement of the Booker judges feels like a rightful appreciation of Galgut as a writer, and of this book, which is undoubtedly his masterpiece. I’m thrilled for him and excited for all the readers who, as a result of the Prize, will now discover and enjoy his compelling work.”

“It’s the burning question at the centre of South African life: who owns the land?” Galgut told Penguin.co.uk while discussing the origins of The Promise. “Obviously that issue goes back to the day the first Europeans set foot here. But in truth I’m somewhat surprised that this aspect of the novel has overshadowed everything else, because for me it was more of a background theme, a recurring motif I could work through the four sections of the book. I was – I am – much more interested in the family and their internal dynamics. Soap opera over politics any day! Aesthetics over ideology!”

The Promise won over five other shortlisted and 12 longlisted books. This year’s shortlist comprised Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This; A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam; The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed; Richard Powers’ Bewilderment and Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.

This year’s is the 52nd Booker Prize. Last year’s winner was Douglas Stuart, with his semi-autobiographical novel Shuggie Bain.

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