Books 2021: How South Africa’s Booker Prize-Winning Novel Promotes a Culture of Reading

Book: The Promise: A Novel

Author: Damon Galgut

Review by: Patrick Plonski, PhD, executive director, Books for Africa

Patrick Plonski

At our Books For Africa warehouse in Atlanta, we go through a lot of books. In fact, in 2021 well over 3 million donated books passed through our doors on their way to Africa. And naturally, as I am traveling fairly often, I read a lot of books on planes and while traveling in general.

Among the countries where I’ve traveled frequently (on a very long flight) is South Africa, a unique country on the continent. Parts of its economy are extremely well-developed, while others are noticeably less so. I’ve driven past BMW dealerships in Pretoria, then past mud huts in the rugged hills of Zululand. Intertwined with its socioeconomic disparities, South Africa is also a land marked with extreme racial divisions and frictions. Thanks to the statesmanlike leadership of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, these racial divisions have thus far kept from boiling over into widespread rioting.

To learn more about these contrasts, Global Atlanta readers would do well to pick up “The Promise,” a Booker Prize-winning novel by South African author Damon Galgut. I was pleased to see recognition for this great author from South Africa, the third from the country to take home this prestigious prize, especially given that the recognition comes for his approach to the sensitive topic of race relations in South Africa. This dramatic novel tells the tale of a white South African family toward the end of the apartheid era and their interactions with their Black South African neighbors over several generations. I encourage everyone to read it.

In a recent interview, Galgut makes the crucial point that “books matter.” Nowhere, perhaps, are they more important than on the African continent, which has the youngest population in the world (more than 60 percent of its people are under 25). Hopefully, his award will help contribute to building a culture of reading. Books For Africa has sent over 2.5 million books to South Africa in recent years, but we also have a goal to help publish books locally across Africa, supporting local writers and their stories, joining Galgut in promoting local publishing.

In our interconnected world, what happens in Africa matters for Americans, and what we do here in the United States reverberates across the Atlantic. We can help build a culture of reading and learning a continent away!

Editor’s notes: Global Atlanta will receive a 10 percent commission on any purchase of this book through the links on this page. Bookshop.org also contributes 10 percent of the purchase price of each book to independent booksellers around the United States.

Each year, Global Atlanta asks influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued annually since 2010.

See last year’s full list of books on BookShop here, and all 2020 reader reviews here.

All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.

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