Burger's Daughter was generally well-received by critics. Anthony Sampson, a British writer, journalist and former editor of Drum, a magazine in Johannesburg in the 1950s, wrote in The New York Times that this is Gordimer's "most political and most moving novel". He said that its "political authenticity" set in the "historical background of real people" makes it "harshly realistic", and added that the blending of people, landscapes and politics remind one of the great Russian pre-revolutionary novels. In The New York Review of Books, Irish politician, writer and historian Conor Cruise O'Brien compared Gordimer's writing to that of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, and described Burger's Daughter as "elegant" and "fastidious" and belonging to a "cultivated upper class". He said this style is not at odds with the subject matter of the story because Rosa Burger, daughter of a revolutionary, believes herself to be an "aristocrat of the revolution".
Tess Lemmon writing in the New Internationalist magazine called Burger's Daughter "arguably [Gordimer's] best novel", and complimented her on her characterisation, attention to detail, and ability to blend "the personal and the political". Lemmon noted that the book's "subtle, lyrical writing" brings the reader into the characters' minds, which "is an enlivening but uncomfortable place to be". In a review of Gordimer's 1980 story collection, A Soldier's Embrace in The New York Times Book Review, American novelist and critic A. G. Mojtabai stated that despite the troubled times Gordimer lived through at the time she wrote Burger's Daughter, she remained "subdued" and "sober", and even though she "scarcely raise[d] her voice", it still "reverberate[d] over a full range of emotion".
In a review of the book in World Literature Today, Sheila Roberts said that Gordimer's mixture of first- and third-person narrative is "an interesting device" which is "superbly handled" by the author. She commented that it allows the reader to get inside Rosa, and then step back and observe her from a distance. Roberts described Gordimer's handling of Rosa's predicament, continuing the role her father had given her versus abandoning the struggle and finding herself, as "extremely moving and memorable". In The Sewanee Review Bruce King wrote that Burger's Daughter is a "large, richly complex, densely textured novel". He said that it "fill[s] with unresolvable ironies and complications" as Gordimer explores the dilemmas faced by her characters in the South African political landscape.
American writer Joseph Epstein had mixed feelings about the book. He wrote in The Hudson Review that it is a novel that "gives scarcely any pleasure in the reading but which one is pleased to have read nonetheless". Epstein complained about it being "a mighty slow read" with "off the mark" descriptions and "stylistic infelicities". He felt that big subjects sometimes "relieve a novelist of the burdens of nicety of style". Epstein said that reading the book is like "looking at a mosaic very close up, tile by tile", and that the big picture only emerges near the end. But he complimented Gordimer on the way in which she unravels Rosa's fate, saying that it is "a tribute to her art".