Review: Burger’s Daughter, by Nadine Gordimer

My first experience with Nadine Gordimer was her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Conservationist.  I found the book and Gordimer’s writing oddly fascinating, and in said my review, “despite my rather lukewarm reaction to this particular novel, I will definitely be reading more of her work.”  This year I finally got around to it, first with None to Accompany Me (read my review), and more recently, Burger’s Daughter.  And now I think I’ve had enough of Gordimer to last me a very long time.

Burger’s Daughter explores the idea of legacy through the character of Rosa Burger.  After the death of her parents, both South African activists, Rosa tries to come to terms with what it means to be the daughter of such notable public figures.  She is accustomed to dealing with the authorities, and with having to keep certain activities and relationships secret or risk arrest.  She never knows whether people are interested in her for who she is, or for whose daughter she is.

That sounds kind of interesting, doesn’t it?  Well it was, up to a point.  But  I missed the prerequisite course in South African politics and the issues of the day, and this time Gordimer’s writing completely failed to engage me.  I read about 1/3 of this book but it was just too much of a struggle.


2 thoughts on “Review: Burger’s Daughter, by Nadine Gordimer

  1. This raises a very interesting point Laura – to what extent knowledge or understanding of the political/social background is important to understanding a particular text. If you think about Mantel’s two books on Cromwell, there is a huge amount of historical context to this story. I know some people said they couldn’t get on with the first one because they just didn’t understand who was who and what the big deal was. Luckily I had studied the period pretty extensively in the past. But I had a feeling that it wasn’t essential – it was the characterisation of Cromwell and the focus on him that held my attention. For some books, though – as your experience shows – it sounds far more critical to have an inkling of the background. I tried reading the Robert Graves book I Claudius many years ago but gave up because I didn’t really have a clue who all these people were and where they were fighting etc. Are there others that might fall in that camp I’m wondering?

    • Karen, it is an interesting point isn’t it? I usually don’t mind doing a bit of research, when I find I need context to better understand the story. This situation, however, might have been similar to yours with I, Claudius. There were so many different uprisings, controversies, and factions I didn’t think I could ever keep them straight. My lack of knowledge was a barrier to enjoying the book, and yet I also couldn’t get motivated to learn more either!

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