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South African Damon Galgut wins Booker Prize for The Promise

Galgut was a finalist at the Booker Prize for the third time

Author Damon Galgut at the 2021 Booker Prize Awards Ceremony in London, Wednesday Nov. 3, 2021. He wins the 2021 Booker Prize for fiction for “The Promise”.  (David Parry/PA via AP)

South African writer Damon Galgut has won the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction with his story of racism and reckoning The Promise.

Galgut was British bookmakers’ favorite to win the 50,000-pound ($69,000) prize. His novel follows the fortunes of a white South African family in the years before and after the end of apartheid, and their failure to keep a promise to a Black employee. 

The announcement was made by Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judges. Galgut was awarded the prize Wednesday in London on his third time as a finalist. The first was in 2003, and the second time, was in 2010.

“Let me say this has 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 I'm part of. Please keep listening to us, there's a lot more to come,” the 57-year-old Galgut said.

The Promise is Galgut’s ninth novel, and first in seven years; his debut was published when he was just seventeen," notes the Booker Prizes' website. 

In his speech Galgut noted that while critics had earlier said he had no sense of humour, he'd like to believe that he did – that he found many things funny, even though admittedly his was a sort of dark humour.

Earlier this year, The New York Times had said The Promise “adopts a protean tone, now menacing, now darkly mirthful”, calling Galgut “a gleeful satirist”. 

The judges said that the book is “a strong, unambiguous commentary on the history of South Africa and of humanity itself that can best be summed up in the question: does true justice exist in this world?” 

Founded in 1969, the Booker Prize has a reputation for transforming writers’ careers and is open to all novels in English published in the U.K.

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