Burger's Daughter


Burger's Daughter is a political and historical novel by the South African Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Nadine Gordimer, first published in the United Kingdom in June 1979 by Jonathan Cape. The book was expected to be banned in South Africa, and a month after publication in London the import and sale of the book in South Africa was prohibited by the Publications Control Board. Three months later, the Publications Appeal Board overturned the banning and the restrictions were lifted.

Burger's Daughter details a group of white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa seeking to overthrow the South African government. It is set in the mid-1970s, and follows the life of Rosa Burger, the title character, as she comes to terms with her father Lionel Burger's legacy as an activist in the South African Communist Party (SACP). The perspective shifts between Rosa's internal monologue (often directed towards her father or her lover Conrad), and the omniscient narrator. The novel is rooted in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle and references to actual events and people from that period, including Nelson Mandela and the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Gordimer herself was involved in South African struggle politics, and she knew many of the activists, including Bram Fischer, Mandela's treason trial defence lawyer. She modelled the Burger family in the novel loosely on Fischer's family, and described Burger's Daughter as "a coded homage" to Fischer.[2] While banned in South Africa, a copy of the book was smuggled into Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island, and he reported that he "thought well of it".[3]

The novel was generally well-received by critics. A reviewer for The New York Times said that Burger's Daughter is Gordimer's "most political and most moving novel",[4] and a review in The New York Review of Books described the style of writing as "elegant", "fastidious" and belonging to a "cultivated upper class".[5] A critic in The Hudson Review had mixed feelings about the book, saying that it "gives scarcely any pleasure in the reading but which one is pleased to have read nonetheless".[6] Burger's Daughter won the Central News Agency Literary Award in 1980.

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