Saturday, March 02, 2013

Daughter of an Activist

Burger's DaughterBurger's Daughter
by Nadine Gordimer

“I don't want to know more about her; don't want to know her weaknesses or calculate them. What I have is not for her; he gives me to understand she would not know what to do with it; it's not her fault. --One is married and there is nothing to be done.-- Yet he has said to me, I would marry you if I could, meaning: I want very much to marry you. I offended him a bit by not being moved. It's other things he's said that are the text I'm living by. I really do not know if I want any form of public statement, status, code; such as marriage. There's nothing more private and personal than the life of a mistress, is there? Outwardly, no one even knows we are responsible to each other...."  ― Nadine Gordimer, Burger's Daughter

This was the second novel by Nadine Gordimer that I have read; several years ago I read her short novel, July's People. I wish this novel had been a bit shorter, for I did not enjoy reading it. The story follows the life of Rosa, the title character, as she comes to terms with her father Lionel's legacy as an activist in the South African Communist Party over the course of 30 years. The perspective shifts between Rosa's internal monologue (often directed towards her father or her sometimes lover Conrad), and the omniscient narrator. The novel is rooted in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa with references to actual events and people from that period.
Her somewhat cryptic style and the difficulty I had trying to focus on what was happening in the story made reading it more difficult than it was worth. There were moments of beautiful prose and my own travel to South Africa helped me picture some of the settings. However the history seemed to overwhelm the story of Rosa Burger.  I asked myself whether this was a novel about Rosa Burger with historical context or if Burger's daughter was a cipher who inhabited a narrative about the history of twentieth century South Africa?  There were moments in the narrative arc that seemed to exist for Rosa, but there were others that intruded creating a jagged edge.  It was these moments where I had to force myself to keep reading from page to page. For a while I hoped the next chapter would bring some relief, but I gradually realized that this book was not going to succeed for this reader.

Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer.  Penguin Books, 1980 (1979).


Parrish Lantern said...

Not a writer I've read.

James said...

She is a powerful writer and has the Nobel Prize on her mantel. If you choose to read one of her novels I would recommend July's People which is only 160 pages, more like a novella; although with her thick prose style it may seem longer.