Books

South African writer Damon Galgut wins 2021 Booker Prize

Having been short-listed twice previously, South African writer Damon Galgut has been announced as the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize.

Damon Galgut, after being shortlisted in 2003 and 2010, has finally won the Booker Prize for his novel The Promise. A multi-generational family saga set in Pretoria, The Promise details the promise made by a white South African family to their black housekeeper amidst the background of generations of colonial violence.

In an op-ed by The Guardian, Galgut’s win has been described as a “timely” and “urgent,” due to: “[his] alertness to complexity and contradiction, to the endlessly fertile swirl of human consciousness, [having] produced a layered, unpredictable feat of fiction.”

booker prize shortlist
Short-listed Booker Prize nominees, including winner Damon Galgut (C-R) (Photo: TechnoTrends)

Maya Jasanoff, chair of the Booker judges, said of Damon Galgut’s win: “We felt among the judges that this book really is a tour de force. It combines an extraordinary story with rich themes – the history of the last 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-wrought package.” 

“Before we even started talking about the individual titles, we had a more wide-ranging discussion about what it is we feel makes a book a winner. One of the judges drew a distinction between the very good and the great. For me, The Promise manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling – it’s a book that has a lot to chew on – with remarkable attention to structure and literary style. With each reading of this book, it revealed something new,” she continued.

During Damon Galgut’s live-streamed acceptance speech, he said: “It’s taken a long while to get here, and now that I have I kind of feel that I shouldn’t be here. [The Booker Prize] could just as easily have gone to any of the other amazing, talented people on this list — and a few others who aren’t. 

“But seeing as the good fortune’s fallen to me, let me say: this has been a great year for African writing. And I’d like to accept this on behalf of all the stories told and untold, the writers heard and unheard, from the remarkable continent that I’m part of. Please keep listening to us.”

The other five novels on the Booker Prize shortlist included:  British-Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men, Sri Lankan Tamil novelist Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North, and three American novels: Richard Powers’s Bewilderment, Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This, and Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle.