(Point Form) Book Review: The Promise by Damon Galgut

  • South African author, winner of the Booker Prize
  • follows one family over several years
  • When their mother dies, she makes their father promise that he will give their servant, Salome, her house to own
  • Apartheid South Africa, the family is white, Salome is Black…we see where this is going, right?
  • Father does not honour the promise
  • Some members of the family want to, some adamantly don’t
  • Family fractures more and more, is brought back together through the years due to various deaths
  • Religion plays an important role and in most cases increases the divisions amongst them
  • Hard to know who the main character is. At first I thought it was the youngest daughter, Amor.
  • But Galgut doesn’t write her (or any women) with much depth or characterization and she feels like a lost character by the end.
  • Maybe it’s the oldest son, Anton, who we probably get the most intimate look at and, at the end, seems like he may be a reflection of the author himself.
  • Does a good job of showing the development of South Africa as a country and how it changes from the late 1970s and into the early 21st century.
  • Listened to this on audio and narrator has a South African accent which of course makes sense and allowed for some good distinction between characters.
  • However, I found it much harder to understand than I expected and particularly struggled with understanding names.
  • Example: In the opening chapter, her aunt comes to pick Amor up at school and tells her that “Mar” is dead. This is clearly an important character and someone who matters a lot to Amor but their relationship is not explained. I’m confused but listening carefully, hoping to figure out who “Mar” is. A friend? Another aunt?
  • Get to the end of the chapter and am introduced to “Par” only to realize that the narrator is actually saying Ma and Pa and Amor’s mother has just died.

5 thoughts on “(Point Form) Book Review: The Promise by Damon Galgut”

  1. I’m so intimidated when it comes to reading books with characters and a different culture. I don’t want to slaughter their name, but my brain gets confused if I’m listening to an audiobook and I hear an unfamiliar word. I can see how you got ma and pa confused, but for some reason when you typed m a r, I immediately thought ma! So weird. Early next year my mom and I are going to be reading purple hibiscus, and I know that has African characters. I’m debating on audio or text, because I want to hear the names, but I don’t want to miss anything!

    1. I’ve done a couple of other audiobooks where the narrator used accents to really differentiate between the characters and it added a lot for me. For example, a woman born in India who immigrated to the US as an adult speaks differently from her children who were born in America. But this one was a lot harder for me and it was primarily the names. I’m still not sure if the uncle’s name was really Wim Ockie! I’ve never particularly struggled understanding South Africans in real life so this took me by surprise. A combo of text and audio could work well for Purple Hibiscus though it might not be feasible!

  2. I never considered that as an issue with audio books, but that makes total sense! You can’t flip back through the pages and double check stuff, which I find I do often because I read so quickly.

    I’ve never read any Damon Galgut but I’ve heard good things, although he writes quite long books in general I think. How long was this one?

    1. That’s a bigger problem than I expected! I didn’t think I looked back in books that much but I do miss being able to do so.

      I didn’t find it overly long. I felt that it got a bit predictable as it followed a pattern but it didn’t drag on. This was the first I’ve read from him.

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