Damon Galgut’s, The Promise

After a seven year hiatus, previously nominated writer, Damon Galgut, delivers an emotional and introspective look into family dynamics and the manifestations of grief. Through the lives of three south African children, Astid, Anton and Amor, Galgut mirrors the turmoil and distress occurring during the 1986 apartheid. Across four decades, numerous deaths and subtle critiques against the white, south African population, the esteemed writer dives deep into what it means to come together. 

If Galgut’s novel could be described as a ride, then death would serve as the stations or stops. The four chapters are all titled after the characters dying within that chapter, a blunt style of foreshadowing. Each death also brings the remainder of the family together again, creating yet again the ever-going conflict of whether Ma’s promises should be kept or not. The first-time death is brought into the book; it is from Rachel or Ma’s death as her daughter Amor laments her death. “No, no. It can’t be true, what her aunt has just told her. Nobody is dead. It’s a word, that’s all. She looks at the word, lying there on the desk like an insect on its back,” (Galgut, 8) using a beautiful simile and depiction of the word dead, Galgut creates an extended theme to carry through the book as more family members die. Galgut, in fact, brings the word death, dead, and die into the book as it goes on 26, 47, and 48 times total respectively.

Whether discussing the impact of generational trauma and the lineage of negative habits, like Galgut does by including characters like Ma and Pa, or the independence and courage that is needed to break free of the cycle that is embodied through Amor, Damon Galgut does not shy away from critiquing society’s sour habits. 

About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
This entry was posted in #PBL #StudentCentered, #PennPBL, 2021 Booker Prize Short List, Literature Circles aka #litcircles, Podcast, Reading, Reflective Assessment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Damon Galgut’s, The Promise

  1. Pingback: Podcast on Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This | Mr. Sullivan's Digital Classroom

  2. hannahhcote says:

    I thought that the discussion on the chapter titles foreshadowing a death was very interesting. It is so neat to see authors experiment with unique characteristics that are unconventional yet have a dramatic impact on the novel as a whole. This occurred in Bewilderment as well, where Powers played with the dialogue of Robin to emphasize his unique character. Even the title, which always has a meaning but sometimes goes unnoticed, has a huge impact on this novel, which makes me intrigued as to how it plays into the novel as a whole. Good job guys!

  3. Ben Reimer says:

    I like how the group identified the three big themes in the story (death, mental health, and racism) and went into detail on each. This format made the podcast feel very organized and put together nicely.

  4. Katya Yurkovskaya says:

    You did a great job exploring how the author portrays different issues of South Africa through different points of view. In order to understand an issue, it is always better to “live” through them via an emotional connection rather than just hear facts about it. It sounds like Galgut was able to portray racism by showcasing how the lives of some characters are directly affected by it.

  5. 22hes says:

    I really enjoyed how you structured your podcast and went into detail about the themes in the book as well as the overall writing style.

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