Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize-winning novel examines betrayal in apartheid South Africa

In the compound of Swarts, where words don’t seem to work properly, nonsense proliferates like the chaotic vocabulary of apartheid, inflated by the hot air of fake racial science and stubbornly clinging to illusions about who owns it. what, by what right.

It is a strange fact of contemporary literature that South Africa’s greatest literary exports were for a time predominantly whites with anti-colonial political sentiments. Born in Pretoria in 1963, Galgut is a generation or two younger than most of this group. He has already been nominated for the Booker Prize twice, for the years 2003 The good doctor and the 2010s In a strange room. He is the third white South African to win the award, following Nobel laureates Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee, who have won the Booker twice. A considerable number of white African writers were also nominated for the award: André Brink, Doris Lessing (a Briton from Zimbabwe) and Deborah Levy. This abundance is partly explained by the fact that the Booker was from 1969 to 2014 only open to authors from the Commonwealth, Ireland, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but it is still an overrepresentation in terms of the number of eligible citizens.

The promise is as good as any enthusiastic critics suggest, but it contributes to an already fictional thrill about the existence of whites under apartheid. Who exists in the history of South Africa? Countless black and brown life stories have gone unrecorded during the great silence of apartheid. But now it’s the white past that is fading: Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last white head of state in South Africa, died yesterday. Produced in equal parts of guilt and genius, the body of great white apartheid fictions captures only a fraction of the South African experience. There are other Johannesburg fictions to balance Galgut’s image of the city, if you’re looking for them: Kgebetli Moele’s 2006 novel Room 207 is high rise gold, just like the fire of Phaswane Mpe Welcome to Our Hillbrow: a novel from post-apartheid South Africa

(2001). And if The promise
is a microscopic story with very broad historical implications, then the 2022 novel by CA Davids How to be a revolutionary,
whose heroine traces paths between Shanghai and Cape Town, will be its opposite and its complement.

In his review of The promise,
James Wood wrote that Galgut, as a white South African writer, “inherits a subject which must at different times feel liberating in its dimensions and imprisoned in its inescapable” – a comment, it seems. he, both the overwhelming nature of the severity of apartheid and the horrific peculiarity of a memory that could only have happened in one place.

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