South African playwright and novelist Damon Galgut wins Booker Prize for “The Promise”


South African playwright and novelist Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize on Wednesday for “The Promise,” his third shortlisted novel which tells about a family in his homeland from the end of apartheid to the presidency of Jacob Zuma.

Spanning several decades, the book shows the growing disintegration of the family as the country emerges into democracy.

“I am truly deeply, humbly grateful for this,” the 57-year-old said as he accepted the prestigious British award at a televised ceremony in London.

“It took a long time to get here and now that I’ve done it I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be here,” added the author, who wrote her first novel at 17. .

“The Promise,” about a white family with a farm outside of Pretoria – where Galgut grew up – was tipped for the prize ahead of the announcement on Wednesday night.

The white South African writer said he wanted the critically acclaimed novel to show how ‘the passage of time’ affects a family, a country, its politics and ‘notions of justice’, while also exploring mortality .

Speaking immediately after winning the Booker, Galgut paid tribute to his home continent.

“It has been a great year for African writing and I would like to accept it in the name of all the stories told and not told, writers heard and not heard, of the remarkable continent of which I am a part,” he said. declared.

“Please continue to listen to us. There is much more to come.

Speaking to reporters a little later, he pointed out that this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature went to another African writer, Zanzibar-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah.

This would “suggest that maybe the volume is increasing in Africa,” he said.

Galgut’s victory came just hours after it was announced that another African writer, the 31-year-old Senegalese author Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, had won the Goncourt, France’s biggest literary prize.


Galgut triumphed over a short and diverse roster of authors also spanning Sri Lanka, Britain and the United States, whose novels covered topics and stories ranging from female pilots to modern social media.

The award, whose previous winners are Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel, is one of the leading literary awards for novels written in English.

The winner receives a prize of £ 50,000 ($ 68,000) as well as increased sales and public profile.

Maya Jasanoff, chair of this year’s judges, congratulated all of the final nominees but singled out “The Promise” for its “incredible originality and fluidity of voice” and as a “truly dense book with historical and metaphorical significance”.

Critics agree. The New Yorker called it “remarkable”, while the Sunday Times of South Africa said “it is amazing how much history Galgut contains in this short novel.”

20th century history

Other finalists included 64-year-old American writer Richard Powers, whose novel “Perplexity” tells the story of an astrobiologist who struggles to cope with his young son’s behavioral problems.

Powers was shortlisted in 2018 and then won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction two years ago for his tree-themed book “The Overstory”.

Another American writer, Patricia Lockwood, 39, has been nominated for her debut novel, “No One Is Talking About This,” featuring a social media-obsessed 30-something who faces a shocking medical diagnosis.

Other books revisit the history of the twentieth century.

Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam, 33, in his second novel, “A Passage North”, focuses on the traumatic legacy of the nearly three-decade civil war that ended in 2009.

“The Fortune Men”, by Anglo-Somali author Nadifa Mohamed, 40, is based on the true story of a Somali sailor wrongly convicted of murder in the multicultural port of Cardiff in the 1950s.

“Great Circle,” by American novelist Maggie Shipstead, 38, tells the story of a fictional female pilot hoping to circle the world from pole to pole, interwoven with the first person narrative of a Hollywood starlet playing her part.

This year’s televised ceremony at BBC’s Broadcasting House in London brought together all of the shortlisted authors, after Covid restrictions led to video appearances last year.

Last year saw the most diverse roster in the award’s five decades of history, as judges in 2019 tore up the rulebook by jointly awarding it to Canada’s Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine. Evaristo.



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