A First-Rate Political Novel

A First-Rate Political Novel

BURGER’S DAUGHTER, by Nadine Gordimer. New York: Viking Press. 361 pp. $10.95.

One approaches novels that have been as highly praised as Nadine Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter with a certain caution. About one-fourth of the way into the novel, however, all caution breaks down, and the reader finds himself ready to acknowledge that Burger’s Daughter is one of those rare novels that stamps its existence on the consciousness of our time. Nothing Nadine Gordimer has written to this point—not even those superb short stories or her earlier novels—quite prepares her readers for the power of Burger’s Daughter, a power built up layer by layer, scene by scene. At this point in history, few other writers, in the English language at least, could create a revolutionary world that is so human, so intimate in the presence it exerts on the reader, and so beyond the necessity of slogans that it can parody them with affectionate ease. It is her “humanness”—a vague enough word, but the only suitable one that comes to mind—that will ultimately make Rosa Burger a fit companion for Malraux’s Kyo Gisors or Pasternak’s Zhivago. There is something terribly wearing about the way she struggles with the horrors of contemporary South Africa, but there is something terribly human about it as well.

The novel’s power is not that it confronts the sickness that is South Africa nor the paranoia that will ultimately destroy both South Africa and the forces of its liberation. For this, journalism can tell the story adequately. Nadine Gordimer knows that in order to meld politics and fiction, the writer must assume a distance beyond her characters but never above them.