Nadine Gordimer

THE LAUREATE: Nadine Gordimer was born in Springs, outside of Johannesburg in 1923. She was an activist for ending apartheid in South Africa (by this, I mean she repeatedly risked her life to make fundamental changes to her nation and culture, not that she marched around with a posterboard sign a few days a month.) She is now an activist for HIV awareness and freedom of speech. I am kind of in awe of her even just from the little bit I read on Wikipedia.

WHAT ARE YOU READING?: Burger’s Daughter.

REVIEW: Burger’s Daughter was fantastic. The basic plot is this: the daughter of a famous white Communist activist in South Africa must come to terms with her father’s legacy. The first and longest section of the novel establishes the hell that is South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s and Lionel Burger’s role in attempting to end apartheid and give blacks a real role in South African life. Lionel is jailed for life and dies fairly early in the book, but he casts a long shadow over the rest of the novel. The fact that the main character/occasional narrator Rosa is Lionel’s daughter makes her a marked woman: she is constantly under surveillance, her presence at any gathering of people automatically makes them suspect, etc. Eventually, Rosa manages to get a passport and escape to France. She lives with her father’s first wife, who couldn’t commit herself enough to the revolution to suit him. Rosa, free of the restrictions on her movements and associations, begins to truly live. She has exciting conversations with the people around her, she genuinely falls in love with a teacher she happens to meet, she, in short, has a chance to have an identity beyond “Burger’s daughter.” Then, finally, she meets the man who her father took in as a boy and who she has been looking for her entire adult life. They talk and she finds that he, along with most South African blacks of his generation, think that white activists in general, and Lionel Burger in particular, were useless, if not actively destructive, to the anti-apartheid movement. This meeting sends Rosa back to South Africa in a fury, where she is soon arrested (possibly on trumped-up charges) and imprisoned, just like her father.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT?: Yes, unequivocally. After I’m done with this project, I will make a point of reading one of Nadine Gordimer’s books that is actually still banned in South Africa: July’s People.

WHAT’S NEXT: Hermann Hesse and Narcissus and Goldmund


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