Burger's Daughter Themes

Burger's Daughter Themes


Although she denies it for the majority of the text, Rosa is the inheritor of all of her parent's political legacy. They worked hard for years and years in order to undermine the extremely conservative and corrupt government of South Africa. As members of the SACP, they were considered traitors. Growing up somewhat separated from this, Rosa is still subject to government surveillance and considered a potential threat. When both of her parents end up dying in prison, Rosa outright rejects their goals. She wants nothing to do with their movement or their legacies, so she stops giving her last name places. By sheer luck, she obtains permission for a passport and a year's visit to France, where her dad's first wife lives. She stays with Katya for a while, as if living with someone else who rejected Lionel's goals will inspire her to really believe her denial. After falling in love with Bernard, she determines to remain in Europe as a fugitive forever and never to return to South Africa. She starts using her last name again and receives a lot of invitations to political events in London. Curious, she attends. At one conference she runs into Baasie, with whom she had been raised as a kid. He outright accuses her of being a traitor to her own family and a coward for using her father's name without embracing the values for which he died. Somehow his words ring true for Rosa, and she determines to prove him wrong. Immediately she returns to South Africa to rejoin the communist movement.

Fluid Family Ties

Rosa has a rather unique relationship to her family members. Her upbringing is very non-traditional. When she's just a baby, her parents unofficially adopt Baasie, the son of a fellow activist who died in prison. They are raised together as brother and sister. When she's 9, however, Rosa is sent to live with some obscure members of her dad's family. Baasie is sent somewhere else. Her parents were trying to protect Rosa from the violence surrounding their work, but they end up making her feel unwanted and terribly lonely. She stops thinking of them as parents really and considers herself some kind of orphan. She doesn't see Baasie again until they're both adults, and he accuses her of being a traitor and claims to never have really known her. As a kid, Rosa has a deeper intimacy with Baasie than anyone, considering him her brother. After both of her parents die in prison, she goes to France to live with her dad's ex-wife for a while. Somehow the two of them share a strong emotional connection because they both felt alienated by Lionel's political involvement. Katya becomes Rosa's mother figure, much more than her mom ever could've been before her death. In the end, Rosa feels her deepest familial connections to the little orphan boy whom her parents took care of for a few years and to her dad's first-wife. Her own parents seem like total stranger to her, to whom she owes no loyalty for so many years.


Because of the setting, racism is a pretty dominant theme in this book. It's hard to talk about Apartheid without mentioning the racism upon which it was founded. Of course as a child Rosa is taught about her parents' beliefs that black Africans should be allowed equal rights in South Africa as rights, but as an adult she's introduced to the nasty reciprocation of the black citizens. While she works as a physiotherapist, Rosa learns about the black university students' movement to push the whites out of the communist party. They were outraged over white privilege and felt humiliated by relying on these white people to propagate their political movement. This is a similar attitude to the one expressed by Baasie when he reunites with Rosa in London. She's profoundly influenced by this new form of racism and determines to resurrect her father's legacy by carrying on his work. She wants to prove that the movement will be successful when everyone works together, regardless of race.

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