The Promise by Damon Galgut

The Promise book cover

This book pulls no punches. This is an unvarnished account of a dysfunctional, White South African family family. This isn’t Friends, or Full House. This family is at each other’s throats and the main impetus of the conflict is the family farm. From what I gather, a family homestead with a few Black servants living there was a typical South African living situation in 1980s Cape Town. This story takes place during the tumultuous time in South Africa from 1986 until 2018. The characters all come together in the book 4 times for 4 different funerals. The title of the story refers to a promise made to the Black housekeeper who has lived with, and taken care of the family for generations. She lives in a smaller house on the farm. At each funeral, there is conflict about this promise made and some of the family try to pressure them to honor it.

The characters in this novel are petty. They are selfish. They all have their own agendas. They are all human. Of all the characters, it felt like there was only one ‘good’ character, even though I identified with the other characters. We can see a bit of ourselves in all these characters, no matter how distasteful that might be.

I am still thinking about this book after finishing it over a week ago. It has powerful imagery in it. It is also a very typical family situation, what family isn’t trying to inherit bigger slices of the family property when there is a death in the family (or maybe that’s just Greek families?). We all have this greedy gene in our souls.

I loved reading this book and am thankful a friend of mine bought it, and lent it to me. A note for readers, there are only 4 chapters in this book, and they are long. 4 funerals = 4 chapters. The perspective and thoughts of the characters float from character to character so you might get a bit lost if you put this down in the middle of a chapter. Myself, I read each chapter in one sitting because I didn’t like to leave a chapter in the middle of it.

I don’t often think much of Booker Prize winners as I’m more excited about the International Booker Prize but this was definitely a worthy winner.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #17 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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