cover image The Promise

The Promise

Damon Galgut. Europa, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-60945-658-0

Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the keenly observant Galgut (Arctic Summer) offers a deeply affecting family saga spanning decades of upheaval in South Africa. The promise referenced by the title, made but never kept, is first overheard in fragments by preteen Amor, youngest daughter of the white Swarts family, when her father vows to Amor’s dying mother that he would bequeath a house on their property to their Black maid, Salome. Ten years later, Amor reunites with her vain sister, Astrid, and unpredictable brother, Anton, after their father suffers a fatal snakebite. Amor has not forgotten the promise, and Anton, an army deserter with grandiose plans to write a novel, assures Amor he will follow through after having inherited the house himself. A decade later, tension brews between the siblings as Astrid and Anton resist Amor’s calls to legally transfer the property to Salome, who now lives in it. Galgut’s astounding prose effortlessly navigates the roiling thoughts of his characters (Astrid, on her boredom: “That’s my life, she thinks, miles and miles of brown grass”; Anton, meanwhile, looks “for something... searching and searching, but fucked if he can remember what for”). He’s an expert at voices, stealthily examining the world from the inside out and engaging the reader with inventive triangulation, such as the omniscient narrator’s sudden mocking of Anton’s habit of repeating himself (“Did I ever tell you about, Yes, you did, actually, so shut the fuck up”). This tour-de-force unleashes a searing portrait of a damaged family and a troubled country in need of healing. (Apr.)