Disco dancing and dilemmas encapsulated the mood of the 1970’s. In a decade that saw Britain’s first female prime minister, novelists strove to effectively capture the mood of unrest. Your Reading Passport journey continues with a look at a novel by a South African writer, Nadine Gordimer.


Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer is a political novelist who devises absorbing situations to dramatize the spirit of her times. Her novel, “Burger’s Daughter” is a highly detailed record of the anti-apartheid politics of South Africa in the 1970’s. It is also the story of a young woman, Rosa, coming to terms with herself. Her father, Lionel is a white radical who has just died in prison. His death drives her to make a painful attempt to fit the personal to the political: to discover her own meanings of commitment, betrayal and freedom.

The novel avoids big set pieces and instead uses the small domestic details of politics to make its point. There are chattering arguments about Marx and Mandela at dinner parties, gatherings in front rooms and prison visits that are all seen through Rosa’s eyes, interwoven with insights, private musings, childhood memories and adult desires. In Pretoria she avoids her father’s friends.

In Nice she has an affair with a married man. In London she unexpectedly encounters her black childhood companion after years apart. Everywhere she seeks to both confirm and escape her father’s influence.

The novel is often poetic and sensual, but always true to the rhythms of ordinary thought – a wonderfully acute portrait of a woman in crisis. If you like Burger’s Daughter you may also like Nadine Gordimer’s “The Conservationist”, winner of the Booker Prize. Its the tale of a rich and complacent white South African farmer whose insensitivity alienates the people around him so that he ends up losing everything.