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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Burger's Daughter (1979) by Nadime Gordimer

Book Review
Burger's Daughter (1979)
by Nadime Gordimer

   South African author Nadime Gordimer is another Booker/Nobel Prize for Literature winning double.   Bit of a scandal that she only placed two books on the 1001 Books list. Her 1974 Booker Winner, The Conservationist, didn't even make the cut.   Her relative dearth of novels (especially when compared to fellow South African Nobel/Booker winner J.M. Coeteze (10 titles!) maybe relates to the decline in interest in the struggle surrounding the Apartheid/White Supremacist government in South Africa by the African National Congress and their allies.

  Like several other books that deal with the subject of the plight of leftist activist/terrorist types after World War II, Burger's Daughter is written about the child of a pair of white South African Communists who both die in prison after being convicted of crimes against the South African government during the apartheid era. The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, about the children of  the Rosenberg spies, published in 1977, is one book that comes to mind.  The Safety Net, by Heinrich Boll, is another.

 Burger's daughter, named Rosa, after Rosa Luxembourg is the daughter of Lionel Burger, a South African doctor of Dutch decent, who turns his back on his people in order to assist in the struggle of Africans against the white minority government.   A critical scene in the novel is Rosa's memory of taking her Father supplies while he was imprisoned awaiting trial.  After losing the trial, he is sentenced to life in prison, and dies a couple years into his sentence.

 The rest of Burger's Daughter is Rosa struggling both with the legacy of her father and the role she wants to play in the ongoing struggle for freedom in South Africa.   Gordimer's style is elliptical, abstract and the overwhelming mood is a sense of detachment in the aftermath of physical and mental trauma.  Burger's Daughter is transparently an important novel about a vitally important subject.  You get the sense that the character is based on someone Gordimer knew, which is apparently the case.

  Burger's Daughter is also a good reminder of just how fucked up apartheid era South Africa was, and how complicated, lest we forget.

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