As might be expected, Burger’s Daughter was banned for a time in South Africa. After prolonged controversy, however, restrictions on it were lifted. Gordimer published a book about the banning, which includes documents related to the case: What Happened to “Burger’s Daughter,”: Or, How South African Censorship Works (1980). Gordimer’s ability to prevail over her government derives from her great moral reputation in combination with her having chosen to remain in her native land (as does her protagonist Rosa), while so many South African writers, among them Alan Paton, have chosen to emigrate. In addition, there is Gordimer’s formidable reputation, based on her many novels and collections of short stories.
In general, Burger’s Daughter is like most of Gordimer’s other fiction in that it is a ruthlessly lucid vision of contemporary manners. It was generally regarded as her best work until July’s People was published in 1981. Her observations seem too cold and clinical to some. Gordimer replies, however, that she does not think warmth essential in a novel. For her ideological scrupulosity, she has been criticized both by the black radicals and by the nationalist government.
Part of Burger’s Daughter is based on historical fact. Lionel Burger’s life closely follows that of Bram Fischer—from his family background to his trial (and betrayal) in 1966 to his death in prison.