SA's Damon Galgut flooded with 'attention, requests, and messages' since winning 2021 Booker Prize

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Damon Galgut winner of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction. (Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images)
Damon Galgut winner of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction. (Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images)
  • South African novelist Damon Galgut says he's been overwhelmed by the flood of requests since winning the 2021 Booker Prize.
  • The 57-year-old says there's been little time to focus on anything else at the moment.
  • Galgut also expanded on the time and placing of his novel and its significance to telling his story in The Promise.

South African novelist Damon Galgut has been overwhelmed with requests since winning the 2021 Book Prize earlier this month.

When asked by News24 Books editor Shaun de Waal whether he’ll be taking a break, travelling, and maybe do some writing following his big win, Galgut answered: "Ha ha, that's very funny. The tsunami of attention, requests, messages and demands has been quite overwhelming, an onslaught for which my life is little prepared.

"Presumably it'll ease slowly, but at this point I don't foresee a time when I can do my own writing, or - as you put it - take a break."

The 57-year-old author is the third South African ever to win the prestigious award, following in the footsteps of other local literary greats like Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee.

Galgut won the award for his book, The Promise, which centres on the Afrikaner Swarts family and their farm located outside Pretoria.

Asked by De Waal if setting the book in Pretoria is, in some sense, a coming home for the author, Galgut answered: "The notion of home-coming seems bound up with an idea of completing a circle, and of comfort and consolation. Returning to Pretoria, even in a fictional way, doesn't feel that way to me. I grew up there in the 1960's and 70's and 80's, and the associations I have from those years are of violence, intolerance, fear and pain. No comfort and consolation in that.”

He added: "On the other hand, I've long thought that Pretoria deserved to be the setting for a novel, precisely because of those qualities. So, there's a sense of returning to where I began and of exorcising some of what was hurtful and horrible. Not a home-coming, but maybe a way of re-ordering and releasing old damage. Incidentally, it's worth adding that when I go back to Pretoria these days (my mother still lives there) it seems to me the South African city that has perhaps changed the most from what it used to be."

Galgut further expanded on the time-jumping structure of the novel which places the book in different moments in SA's history from near the end of apartheid until now. "The pleasure of this book was in being able to paint a trajectory across time, and to register the changes that time has brought. So the history was secondary to the more metaphysical aspects of that arc. 

"To put it differently, I was more fascinated with the way bodies and faces and lives and laws and landscapes change, than with the more obvious changes that come with history. Those are, after all, very well documented, and I have little new to offer. History in this book was, to me, a kind of background, a sort of literary wallpaper."

Galgut, who matriculated from Pretoria Boys High School in 1981, now lives in Cape Town. 

The Booker Prize comes with a £50 000 (just over R1 million) cash prize and usually a drastic worldwide increase in book sales.


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