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Burger's Daughter
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1001 book reviews > Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer

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message 1: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (mrsicks) This is a wonderful book. I was expecting something overtly political, not realising that, as a writer living under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Nadine Gordimer couldn't write anything overtly political. So she wrote something beautiful. And even so, it was banned.

The style has elements of Virginia Woolf's experiments with stream of conscious monologue, but the subject matter has far more weight than the things that concerned Woolf. The prose also has the coolness of Hemingway about it, a detached observational stance. The descriptions of place and season, and the way people move through life and among each other, are lyrical without being florid. There is a stillness running through the book that I found strangely comforting. There are no depictions of brutality or activism, nothing visceral or passionate, but the book feels more powerful for that. I felt like I had read something significant.

Rosa Burger is the daughter of a white South African Communist imprisoned for his political activity. We only ever meet him in the ways Rosa tries to distance herself from him, and his admirers eulogise him. He was a huge public figure. When he dies, Rosa realises she only really knew the public Lionel Burger. She did not know or really have a father, because Lionel belonged to everyone. The book explores the socio-political struggle of black South Africans without being about that struggle. From the people around her, we learn about the continued struggle. From Rosa, we learn what it is to be the child of a political hero and demon. We hear from Rosa in her one-sided conversations with an absent former lover, as she struggles to explain her life so far and the shadow her father casts over it. We hear about her in the third person, as though described in a newspaper report. We see her through the eyes of the surveillance service who follow her. Without having acted politically herself, she is automatically a named person following her father's death. She is white, she is an Afrikaner, but by the accident of her birth, and her father's political beliefs, she is denied freedom of movement and has expectations placed on her. She is the victim of oppression in different ways to someone black, but she shares their experience. She chooses not to become the person her father's friends and the state expect her to become. Her aim is to keep out of the limelight and obtain a passport. Only by leaving South Africa can she discover who she really is, and even then Lionel is still present.

The book made me think about racism and political oppression from the perspective of the oppressed, particularly in its rejection of a liberal white-led movement towards a 'free' South Africa. I found the passages where black characters spoke of their need to be in charge of bringing about change on their own terms very powerful. It also made me think about how we define ourselves, and how the experiences of our parents shape us just as much as our own experiences do.

Kristel (kristelh) | 4103 comments Mod
Read: August 29, 2012
Rating: 3 stars

Review: A story set in South Africa in the sixties and seventies and tells the story of Rosa Burger, daughter of Lionel Burger. Rosa’s parents were Afrikaner Marxists and political activists who opposed apartheid. Rosa loses both her parents to the political struggle. Her dad died in prison. Rosa has no identity of her own and she has no private life. Everything for Rosa is “because I am my father’s daughter” pg 62. He role is imprinted on her. The book explores the impact of apartheid on the people of South Africa. And the society that is racially divided. Rosa discovers that the blacks don’t what the solutions of “well meaning whites”. “ Blackness is the blackman refusing to believe the whiteman’s way of life is best for the blacks. Pg 163” Early in the book, Rosa states in her head that “desire can be very comforting”, she would like to live life without social responsibility and be anonymous like other people. She eventually does get to leave South Africa where she looks for a way to escape her father. She spends some time in France and England only to return to South Africa and her role of ‘her father’s daughter’.
I’ve read a few books about South Africa now and this is not one I would favor. It just was not that fun to read. The story is told through internal monologue as Rosa converses in her thoughts with Conrad, her father or other people. I gave it three stars but really I hovered over 2 stars for awhile. Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

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