Now that it has finally happened Amor is finding it almost impossible to believe that her mother is indeed dead, has passed from this life. Nothing seems real. Amor’s aunt, Tannie, arrives at Amor’s school to pick her up. She reminds Amor that her mother betrayed the family by returning to her old religion. To once again become a Jew. Tannie is very vocal and bitter about the betrayal. Scathing in her criticism, she ends by telling Amor that she hopes that God has forgiven her and that she is at peace. However, in the car, Tannie and her uncle, make little effort in hiding the fact that they are both happy to see that their brother’s wife has finally passed.
The novel’s name comes from a promise Amor’s father made to her mother on her deathbed. A promise that he would give the house to Salome, the black maid who had helped her mother so much through the last unbearable months of illness. A promise that at the time under apartheid could never be fulfilled. But a young Amor, who overhears the promise, does not understand this and expects the promise to be kept.
This promise, once broken becomes a curse, heralding the fall of the white South African Swart family, with everybody apart from Amor, becoming plagued with problems. Her father comes to an ignominious end, bitten by a cobra during a religious stunt. Anton, her brother is plagued with guilt after shooting a young black girl who threw a rock at him during the protests. He is a soldier and decides to desert. Astrid, her older sister, seems to be perpetually unhappy as time goes on, obsessed with power and social status.
The novel is broken into four parts, with each part named after a member of the Swart family. The reader will quickly realize that each part signifies death for the family member of the title. This is not a cheery type of book.
The four parts of the novel span four decades and cover important parts of South Africa’s History, from the fall of apartheid and Mandela’s release from prison, the world cup rugby finals that South Africa were, with apartheid gone, allowed to partake in, to Mbeki’s inauguration.
Galgut’s writing can be a little tricky at times as he shifts perspective rapidly from character to character. He will also shift quickly from first person to third and second with little warning. We never find who the unnamed narrator is. This can be a little jarring but once the reader becomes used to this style, it is very effective, giving a broad view of the narrative. It also feels like Galgut is using the Swart family and their demise as a metaphor for the fall of apartheid. Their loss of power and status mimicking the loss of power and the stranglehold the white man had over the country during apartheid. The house and land a representation of the country, that is eventually returned to the rightful owners.
A very enjoyable and well written read.
Damon Galgut was born in Pretoria in 1963. He wrote his first novel, A Sinless Season, when he was seventeen. His other books include Small Circle of Beings, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs, The Quarry, The Good Doctor and The Impostor. The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Dublin/IMPAC Award. The Imposter was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He lives in Cape Town.
MY RATING -