South African writer Damon Galgut won the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction on Wednesday with ``The Promise,’’ a novel about one white family’s reckoning with South Africa’s racist history. Galgut had been British bookmakers’ runaway favorite to win the 50,000-pound ($69,000) prize with his story of a troubled Afrikaner family and its broken promise to a Black employee _ a tale that reflects bigger themes in South Africa’s transition from apartheid.
Galgut took the prize on his third time as a finalist, for a book the judges called a ``tour de force.’’ 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.’’
Historian Maya Jasanoff, who chaired the judging panel, said ``The Promise’’ was a profound, forceful and succinct book that ``combines an extraordinary story, rich themes – the history of the last 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-wrought package.’’
Galgut’s ninth novel traces members of the Swart family _ the word is Afrikaans for black _ haunted by an unkept promise to give their Black maid, Salome, her own house. The book is structured around a series of funerals over several decades; Galgut has said he wanted to make readers fill in the narrative gaps themselves.
He is the third South African novelist to win the Booker Prize, after Nadine Gordimer in 1974 and J.M. Coetzee, who won twice, in 1983 and 1999.