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.
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
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.
I love to read, any book on any topic. I now love ebooks as they are easier to store, I was running out of bookshelves! My other interests are family, gardening and our beautiful King Charles spaniel dog who is my reading companion.