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Novel about South African Jewish mother picks up prestigious Booker Prize

‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut spans 40 years of recent South African history

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of JTA

South African author Damon Galgut poses with his book 'The Promise' on October 31, 2021. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)
South African author Damon Galgut poses with his book 'The Promise' on October 31, 2021. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)

JTA — The prestigious Booker Prize for fiction has gone to a South African’s novel about a Jewish woman’s dying wish.

Author Damon Galgut picked up the £50,000 ($68,000) prize at a ceremony on Wednesday in London. “The Promise” spans 40 years of recent South African history, and kicks off when the mother of a white farm-owning clan insists that the family’s Black maid inherit the house she lives in — despite apartheid laws preventing Blacks from owning property.

The mother in the novel returns to her Jewish roots after converting to her husband’s evangelical Christian faith. In a review of “The Promise,” the Jewish Chronicle noted that “Galgut’s descriptions of Jewish observance are impressively detailed, and Judaism comes off well compared with other religious and spiritual traditions that feature in the novel.”

“The Promise” is the ninth book by Galgut, 57. The chair of the judging committee, Maya Jasanoff, described it as “a tour de force.” The Booker Prize is awarded annually to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland.

Galgut took the prize on his third time as a finalist. He was previously shortlisted for “The Good Doctor” in 2003 and “In a Strange Room” in 2010, but lost both times.

Despite his status as favorite, Galgut said he was “stunned” to win. Galgut said he was accepting the prize “on behalf of all the stories told and untold, the writers heard and unheard, from the remarkable continent that I’m part of.”

AP contributed to this report.

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