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Monday, June 21, 2021


“The Promise” is a novel that I enjoyed and can recommend. A relevant read, with some introspection added. I look forward to more from this writer. (Review by Christine E Hann)

Damon Galgut is a South African novelist and playwriter. Born in Pretoria in 1963, he studied at UCT, where he subsequently has also taught drama. He wrote his first novel A Sinless Season when was he was 17. He has been awarded South African and International awards for his writing. His novella, The Quarry (written in 1995), was made into a feature film which won awards on the international film festival circuit. Other books by the same author: The Good Doctor, In a Strange Room, Artic Summer.

The Promise is the first book written by Damon Galgut that I have read. I discovered as I read, that the story line, and narrative pulled me into what is in essence a family saga and kept me there until the very end.

The novel spans three decades of a family’s story in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, focusing on the lives of the Swart family, who live on a farm in Pretoria.

The story begins in 1986, as the mother Rachel Swart is dying from cancer. On her death bed she makes her husband promise to give their faithful domestic servant, Salome, ownership of the home she lives on, which is part of the family property. The youngest daughter Amor overhears this promise, which, when shared, results in diverse opinions and reactions from the other family members.

We then follow the lives of what becomes an increasingly dysfunctional family: the father, Manie, and their three children, Astrid, Anton and Amor.

Chapters are dedicated to each of the main characters, as we travel through the decades. We read through times of fortune, and plumb the depths of despair, all the while the promise haunts the Swart family, as it does Salome. A commentary on the lives and experiences (and shame) of many South African families.

What also struck me was that, with the novel being set in historic times, the writer referenced events, and incorporated into the story many of the hopes, dreams, realities, and fears (National service, Nelson Mandela’s release, voting, equality, that Rugby World Cup win, rising crime, corruption) experienced, and their impacts on the respective paths the Swart family members trod. The lives of Salome and her family, similarly, reflect these impacts, in different ways.

The Promise is a novel that I enjoyed and can recommend. A relevant read, with some introspection added. I look forward to more from this writer.

The Promise is published by Penguin Random House UK – 2021. ISBN 9781784744069 – Christine E Hann