South African Damon Galgut wins the Booker Prize with “The Promise”

His third “final” will have been the good one. South African author Damon Galgut won the Booker Prize, a prestigious British literary prize, on Wednesday evening for The Promise. His book is about time spent in a white farming family in post-apartheid South Africa.

“I am deeply, humbly grateful,” said the 57-year-old winner, a third-time finalist. He also hailed a “great year for African writing”, marked by the Nobel Prize in Literature for Abdulrazak Gurnah, a Briton born in Zanzibar.

A book “with historical and metaphorical significance”

On receiving the prize, Damon Galgut stressed that he wanted to accept it for “all the stories that have been told and those that have not been”, the writers, recognized or not, “from this remarkable continent”. Covering the period from the end of apartheid to the presidency of Jacob Zuma, his book traces, through a series of burials, the gradual dislocation of a white family from Pretoria as the country emerges towards democracy.

The president of the jury, the historian Maya Jasanoff, underlined the “originality” and the “incredible fluidity of voices”, of the work, “a dense book, with historical and metaphorical significance”. In a video released before the announcement of the result, the author explained that he wanted to show “the passage of time and what it does to the family, what it does to the politics of the country and what it does to notions of justice”. The real subject of the book is “time and how time passes”. If one message were to be remembered, “it would be that mortality is what underlies all our lives”, “we all age and everything changes as time goes by”.

Five other finalists

The six books selected for the final had been selected by the five jurors from among 158 novels published in the United Kingdom or Ireland between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. They included the American Patricia Lockwood, in the running with No One is talking About Thiswho puts the tragedy of a life in the face of the “absurdity” of social networks, as well as two of his compatriots: Richard Powers with Bewildermentin which an astrobiologist escapes to fantastical worlds while helping his troubled son, and Maggie Shipstead with Great Circle

The other finalists were Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam with A Passage Northwhich evokes trauma and memories of the civil war in Sri Lanka and the British-Somali Nadifa Mohamed for The Fortune Menbased on the true story of a Somali man wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a woman in Wales in 1952.

Launched in 1969, the Booker Prize rewards each year the author of the “best novel written in English”. The winner wins a reward of 50,000 pounds (about 55,000 euros) and the assurance of international fame.

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South African Damon Galgut wins the Booker Prize with “The Promise”