BOOK CLUB: The Promise

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The Promise by Damon Galgut is a powerful and confronting fictional story of the Swart family.

The Swarts are a white privileged South African family living on a farm outside Pretoria.

The story is told over a 30 year period as the family comes together for 4 family funerals, each in a different decade.

Rachel is married to Manie Swart. Rachel arrived at the farm as a 20-year-old pregnant bride. Both of their families were against this marriage.

They have been blessed with 3 children. Rachel gave up her Jewish religion and converted to the Dutch Reformed Church of her husband.

Now, Rachel is dying. As the time draws close Rachel reverts back to her Jewish faith, much to Manie’s disappointment. He desperately wanted them to be buried together at the family plot on the farm and now that can’t happen.

the promise

Anton, the eldest is 20 and serving his compulsory service in the army. Anton is troubled by what he has done and what he has seen.

Astrid, a teenager, is rather interested in discovering just what boys like in the family barn! Amor, is the youngest and 13, she has been sent to boarding school.

At an earlier visit home, Amor hears her Mother beg her Father to gift Salome the house and land that she has always lived in. Salome is a black woman who has worked for the family her whole life. Rachel wishes Salome to have something in repayment for all that she has done for the family. Salome has nursed Rachel through her illness and raised the 3 children from babies, plus all her regular chores.

Amor hears her Father say the words “I promise” to her mother. Amor naively believes a Christian never goes back on his word.

The 3 children and other family members return to the farm for Rachel’s funeral, the first of the 4 funerals in the book.

The family is quite dysfunctional, with the siblings very different from each other. The choices each of the siblings make leads them to very different lives.

The funerals are roughly 10 years apart, the family returning to the farm for each one. This really is the only contact the siblings have with each other.

At each funeral, Amor reminds her family about “The Promise”.

The story cleverly shows just what is happening to each family member, how the changes in South Africa impact each of their lives.

Plus it tells the history of South Africa at each 10-year interval, showing the rise in crime, the land rights claims made on any farmers’ land, and the massive changes that happened.

The Swart family were once well off, but they are not now with the changing of the times.

Thirty years later Salome still works for the family and is still waiting to see if “The Promise” will ever happen.

I found I was really engaged by the story and each of the characters whilst learning about a country that underwent a huge change over this 30 year period. Many statements made by the characters are very powerful and thought-provoking.

I can see why this book is the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize.

Thank you to Penguin Random House and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this amazing book.

Author: Damon Galgut
ISBN: 9781784744076

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Promise by Damon Galgut. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

7 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Promise

  1. Thankyou Beautyandlace and Penguin books for the opportunity to review ‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut.
    The book is a bout a white South African family, the Swarts living outside Pretoria on a farm which they own.
    The mother (Ma) Rachel has just died after an illness and the family are in shock.
    There are the father Manie (Pa), 20yr old Anton, a rifleman in the military (who blames himself for the recent death of a woman who he didn’t mean to kill), 16yr old Astrid who thinks only of herself, 13yr old Amor (Who survived being struck by lightening) and the children’s Aunt Tannie Marina an interesting and full on character.
    Amor has been collected from her boarding school to attend the funeral and imagines her Mother in her room, but knows it is their coloured servant Salome, who has been with the family for many years and is living in a small house on the farm. Amor overheard a conversation a couple of weeks previously when her Mother made her father promise to give Salome her house.
    Each part of the book is in sections devoting a section on the character depicted and the lives around them.
    It is narrated at times quite humorously, sad topics but lightened by the telling by such a skilled writer.
    The book scans a time frame of 30years where we follow the lives and deaths within the family. Over this period of time there is tremendous change within South Africa in living conditions and government. It was interesting to read the expressions and names of things in the African language.
    I really enjoyed this very interesting and informative book and is definitely 4 stars from me.

  2. The Promise by Damon Galgut ( Penguin Random House) is a well written but disturbing and depressing family saga. It centers on four funerals and the promise made to the dying mother of a privileged white South African family, that her black servant Salome, will be gifted ownership of the run down house she has lived in, on the Swart family farm.
    The funerals take place over a period of 30-40years. During that time not only do you see each member of the Swart family and the society around them crumble and decline, you also see the family fail to honour the promise made to Salome.
    In fact broken promises are a strong theme throughout the novel. Neither Mandela era South Africa – with its shocking crime and corruption, nor the dysfunctional Swart family live up to their potential or promise…
    A very powerful and disturbing story, The Promise will haunt your thoughts for a long time.

  3. The Promise by Damon Galgut was the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize and as with many award winning books, I struggled a bit. The book started strongly but the narrative moved around and it was sometimes hard to know whose judgement or point of view was referred to. It is hard to tell all the problems of a country like South Africa through a single white Afrikaner family but the messages throughout are powerful and thought provoking.
    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read this book.

  4. The Promise by Damon Galgut is a thought provoking novel following the journey of members of the Swart family and South Africa through turbulent times. I found it difficult though to engage positivity with any of the characters, even the youngest daughter, Amor who is determined the family set things right and live up to promises made. I did had empathy for the character of Salome and her treatment and life at the Swart family farm. Upon reflection, I feel as though this novel would be very interesting to study in a more detailed way as my casual reading of it feels as though many of the subtleties of the writing and skills of the authors writing techniques may have been lost on me at this time. It is a novel I will put on the shelf for now, to pick up again at a later date as I feel like there is something hidden, not within my grasp or understanding whilst reading for the 1st time. Thank you Beauty and Lace Bookclub, Penguin Random House Australia and Damon Galgut for the opportunity to read and review The Promise.

  5. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the chance to read this interesting book. It centers around The Swart family and a promise that seems to never be fulfilled. I found the characters to be quite quirky and I really enjoyed the story.

  6. Thank you to Beautyandlace and Penguin books for the opportunity to review ‘The Promise’.

    A huge departure from the types of light hearted fiction I usually go for.

    A complex tale set in a country and a way of living that I have no experience of. I felt the writing style was strong and engaging, but for me, the content was super confronting.

    It took me a few tries to “get into” the book and after the past few months I felt really emotional about the subject matter. I appreciated the book but perhaps it is for a more serious reader than myself.

    My better half is reading it now and is having a vastly different experience to me.. He loves it.

    Powerful and thought provoking.

  7. Thank you for the book reading opportunity. I enjoyed reading the book, at times, it was sad, made me laugh and was quite serious and upfront.
    I found the story a little difficult to get into, slightly slow paced, although it could be the style of writing, once I could get into the reading, it was a good serious read.
    It is an intense book, so I think it’s something that you can read, and then come back to it months later to read again.

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