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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

Winner of the Booker Prize 2021.

This audiobook includes bonus content of Damon Galgut in conversation with Ted Hodgkinson, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre.

There is nothing unusual or remarkable about the Swart family, oh no, they resemble the family from the next farm and the one beyond that, just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans, and if you don't believe it then listen to us speak....

The many voices of The Promise tell a story in four snapshots, each one centered on a family funeral, each one happening in a different decade. In the background, a different president is in power, and a different spirit hangs over the country, while in the foreground the family fights over what they call their farm, on a worthless piece of land outside Pretoria. 

Over large jumps in time, people get older, faces and laws and lives all change, while a brother and sister circle around a promise made long ago and never kept.... 

©2021 Damon Galgut (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Astonishing." (Colm Tóibín)

"Gorgeous and pleasurable." (Tessa Hadley)

"The most important book of the last 10 years." (Edmund White)

What listeners say about The Promise

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Difficult experience

I am a South African, who, like Anton, wished to, and got, the hell out. This book is almost unbearable to me in the clarity it sheds on the awfulness of the life I was born into. Peter Noble’s narration accurately captures the nuances of Afrikaner, Jew, Anglophile and oppressed Black. There can be no winners in such a story. Everyone is guilty, if not by act, then by association. To those who did not enjoy or empathize with this book, I say count yourselves lucky that you did not understand it. Damon Galgut stands witness…

64 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Touching portrayal of a troubled country

I grew up in South Africa leaving it finally in 1986 so the early chapters of this stunning book felt like stepping back in time. Galgut paints an evocative and emotional picture of a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional country as both move from generation to generation. Dividing the book across key moments in South Africas history and the key characters lives results in a moving juxtaposition and powerful metaphor for both the country's and their troubled development.
The reading is excellent and the many accents a joy to revisit.
A beautiful and sensitive story....

28 people found this helpful

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Incredible writing, story, narration

Absolutely loved this book, it has to win the Booker prize, surely. As a South African (now living in UK) and having lived through this history (I’m a similar age to Damon Galgut), I can say how he has perfectly captured so many aspects and tensions and contradictions and injustices - and people, wow the characters are so real and utterly believable. It reminded me at the start and finish of Under Milkwood.
I thought the narrator was brilliant, every accept spot on.
Would thoroughly recommend.

20 people found this helpful

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Bleak and superficial - poor character development

I couldn't bear the narrator's voice - it seemed to vibrate horribly. This book had such a brilliant review in the weekend papers that I rushed to get it, glad to discover a brilliant new author. Sadly I was disappointed. There was a story there and lots of observation of different people's behaviours, but none of the characters was really developed and all the characters (to the limited extent we knew them) seemed shallow and behaved awfully. There was no spark of goodness in the book - one character does do the right thing and try to be good - but again we never get inside her head either. So I would say it was rather bleak, superficial and obsessed with weird observations of how little for example novels usually mention that we all wee and poo etc. As if that was a clever observation! I would not recommend the book and won't bother to read any of this author's other books. If you want a cracking novel try The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk - now that is a masterpiece!

12 people found this helpful

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Definitely a Booker contender

My fourth by this author and definitely the best and toughest. Extremely well written and the audible narrator does it justice. Recommend for all lovers of great literature and those interested in South Africa

10 people found this helpful

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Great story, bursting with ideas

This is a great story that is bursting with ideas. It tracks South Africa over the last 30 years. There are some innovative techniques. I've never read anything that flashes from perspective to perspective like a camera panning. An absolute pleasure to read.

9 people found this helpful

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Could win the Booker Prize 2021 it’s that good!

Brilliant! Both the novel and audible presentation. I rated this 10/10 and a high contender to get shortlisted and then win this years Booker prize.

A white family in South Africa. Four deaths and their aftermath, each approximately a decade apart.

The political changes within a country divided. Practical living and turmoil.

Beautifully written, I engaged with the characters immediately. Didn’t want to leave them at the end.

A few nods to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness within.

All round stunning.

6 people found this helpful

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Bleak but sadly recognisable depiction

Damon Galgut is a new author to me and I really enjoyed this book and in particular his writing style but felt there was perhaps scope to delve a little deeper into the key characters. I recognised much in the societal context and yes of course it is depressing to contemplate but that's hardly a reason not to do so. Brilliant narration by Peter Noble!

5 people found this helpful

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Powerful and thought provoking

An evocative story covering many aspects of South African culture, past and present. A brave look at the complexity of the multi - racial society that lives together in a country fraught with historic and current tensions. A story of love and hate, misconceptions and misunderstandings. All is laid out for the reader to contemplate, but solutions to the problems are hard to find. Highly recommended

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliantly written and read

Challenging and intricate story telling, beautifully read by one of the best narrators. Highly recommended!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Margot Paz
  • 27-11-21

Overall disappointment

There could have been so much more depth in helping those who don't know too much about South Africa to gain an understanding of the tragedy of Apartheid and the ongoing tragedy that is South Africa today. I found the plot and the characters rather shallow and the narrator irritating and monotonous... disappointed ... I was expecting great things

1 person found this helpful

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  • Catherine
  • 09-05-22

The weight of a promise

This is an outstanding novel. Beautifully written and narrated. Profound and thought-provoking. Highly recommended

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  • Kim Baker
  • 01-05-22

Disappointing

This story was deeply affected by the reader’s voice. Had I actually read this book, I may have felt differently about it. I have never felt quite so strongly about how much a reader can influence one’s appreciation. My impression is that this is a very masculine reading which seemed at odds with its main character - unless of course you think of SA as the main character. It certainly speaks to me in that way; the very epitome of an apartheid “voice”. It’s sense of authority and it’s lack of emotional engagement, which is in this case, I’m aware, a literary device.
I’m quite a few years older that the author and I’m a NZer. In no way would I claim that NZ is not racist but when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s my parents boycotted SA products in protest against the regime there. NZ as another colonized country, has always been politically (it wasn’t just sports) tied with/to SA and this book did not inform me in the way that it might do for people of other nations/ countries. It did not capture my interest or enthusiasm, but I was curious about why I did not like this book.
One last comment, which I had hoped to hear more about in the interview at the end of the book was that the author introduces “ you” into his narrative and although I was never certain, I think “you” was a different character in each of its appearances. However, I stand to be corrected on this point. Perhaps Damon Galgut really was addressing me, the “reader”.

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  • Mario
  • 19-04-22

wow

The book is creative, well written, profound but funny and performed wonderfully.

I grew up in the vaal, and the book felt very real.

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  • Sophia
  • 17-01-22

Listened to the end but couldn't get into it.

I thought the narrator was very good but had a very hard time concentrating on the book. No character is particularly appealing and while I am sure it is very realistic. The story just left me with a bad taste in my mouth and not particularly moved.

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  • The Elite Book Group
  • 08-12-21

Tour de force

The storm at the end a powerful metaphor of the ambiguities and ironies of South Africa today