Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/13/22 5:36 AM

Book review: The Promise by Damon Galgut

THE PROMISE by Damon Galgut. Penguin UK Books.

Halfway through the book, the protagonist makes a statement: But a promise is a promise.

And this 2021 Booker Prize-winning book by South African writer Damon Galgut has that promise as its pivot. A promise made to a dying wife by her distraught husband,  that their longtime black maid  would be given full rights to the ramshackle hut she and her family lived in.

The wife dies and this being SA of the late 80s, the promise is quickly forgotten. By all except the youngest child of the Swart household, Amor Swart. She grows up and goes way from the homestead but that promise made but not kept,  seems to gnaw at the edges of her soul.

Galgut`s style of story-telling is in the adoption of a most matter-of-fact tone (no apologies for undiluted bigotry in some characters) that far from leaching emotion, pours it into the sayings and doings of his characters. The Swart children form the foci of the story: Anton, tortured by his deeds as a conscripted soldier; Astrid, she of the seemingly superficial life and thought, which brings her nothing but  discontent; and Amor,  the sensitive,  observant,  youngest child. As for that promise, the irony lies in the fact that the maid Salome couldn’t have owned her hut because the laws of the time forbade it.

It’s a coming of age story, not just of the Afrikaner Swart children but of a South Africa slowly swiveling from its extreme apartheid stance to one that purports to be more sensitive, more tolerant.

Read this wrenching story of the othering that happens just about everywhere, in the family, in the household, outside in the world.


apartheidBooker Prize-winnerDamon GalgutotheringracismSouth AfricaThe Promise

Sheila Kumar • July 13, 2022

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