A dear friend from grad school has talked about Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter being instrumental in her academic career, which piqued my interest. Plus, Gordimer just passed away a few months back, and I’ve been needing to read more South African writers as part of my journey into more Anglophone literature. I’m not entirely sure I’ve fully digested all that I’ve read, but I’ll give this review my best shot.
Rosa Burger is the daughter of anti-apartheid leader and member of the Communist Party Lionel Burger. The novel begins with her visit to her mother in prison, and though the novel does not take a strictly chronological line, we learn that both her parents are detained, questioned, and imprisoned for their activist work. Her younger brother Tony drowns in a swimming-pool accident, and her father’s trial takes over her adolescent life. The novel focuses on Rosa as an individual and as “Burger’s Daughter,” an identity she can never shake, even though her own ambivalence about her parents’ ideals outweighs any loyalty to the causes they held dear and sacrificed themselves for.
Conceptually, this novel was interesting. What do you do when your parents have fought for an ideal, and you find yourself not tied to it, wanting instead to move on and build a life of your own? The novel does a great job exploring Rosa’s quest for individuality. What keeps this a 3-star book for me is that it was dense, confusingly formatted, and just plain hard to read. It’s ironic of me to say this, since I’m a soon-to-be-PhD in English literature. But the dialogue is formatted in dashes, and it’s hard to develop a coherent chronological line, and the novel switches between a first-person and limited omniscient third-person narrator, which makes the progression even more difficult. It’s worth reading, but it’s a slow, dense read.