Set on the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa, Galgut tells the turbulent story of three siblings — Anton, Astrid and Amor — and a binding promise never kept over the course of several decades.
A family saga that unspools against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa. It begins in 1986, with the death of Rachel, a 40-year-old Jewish mother of three on a smallholding outside Pretoria. The drama of the novel turns on a promise that her Afrikaner husband, Manie, made to her before she died, overheard by their youngest daughter, Amor: that Manie would give their black maid, Salome, the deeds to the annexe she occupies. Now that Rachel is dead, Manie has apparently forgotten and doesn’t care to be reminded.
There is nothing unusual or remarkable about the Swart family, oh no, they resemble the family from the next farm and the one beyond that, just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans, and if you don’t believe it then listen to us speak …
The many voices of The Promise tell a story in four snapshots, each one centered on a family funeral, each one happening in a different decade. In the background, a different president is in power, and a different spirit hangs over the country, while in the foreground the family fights over what they call their farm, on a worthless piece of land outside Pretoria.
Over large jumps in time, people get older, faces and laws and lives all change, while a brother and sister circle around a promise made long ago, and never kept …
SHORTLIST REVIEW SEPT 21: “The Promise” was a fast read, with a tragicomic intensity that kept me turning the pages. A fascinating story of ruin, guilt and wasted potential, “The Promise” is not an uplifting novel. Yet within these unhappy scenes, Galgut crafts characters with incredible nuance, realistic in their flaws and relatable in their desires. Due to Galgut’s awe-inspiring prose and narrative control, “The Promise” is rightfully deserving of its nomination to the shortlist. Indeed, with the post-apartheid transformation of South Africa simmering in the background, its themes might just be expansive enough to clinch the Booker Prize.