Part 1 of Burger’s Daughter, which takes up more than half the novel, establishes the basic family relationships and social background of the protagonist, Rosemarie, or Rosa, Burger. Her father Lionel, as both physician and disciplined revolutionary, is a man of overwhelming moral integrity who, moreover, dies in prison—a martyr to his beliefs. Rosa’s mother, an equally dedicated Communist, also has spent time in prison, so that the child Rosa learns early to take on adult responsibilities—which include not merely caring for herself and her father but also smuggling messages into the prison. She has grown accustomed to almost total social ostracism from her first days in school. Rosa is, however, spared poverty.
The Burger family seems to have more than enough money. There are black servants (who are treated decently, without condescension) and even an informally adopted black child who is being reared in the family as a son. Party members, whether white, black, or colored (or underground) are continually being quartered at the large family house, sometimes for months at a time. In addition, the family has a swimming pool, which is just as forthrightly and openly integrated racially as the house. Lionel loves to teach young Africans—city dwellers in an arid region—how to swim. It is in this pool, however, that Rosa’s younger brother, Tony, drowns.
By the time she is twenty, Rosa’s parents both have died. She is without a passport in a nation that despises her. Though she has friends—Party members—she tends to avoid them. She lives in a state of existential loneliness—...
(The entire section is 664 words.)