Portrait With Keys | Granta

  • Published: 09/08/2007
  • ISBN: 9781846270604
  • 130x20mm
  • 208 pages

Portrait With Keys

Ivan Vladislavic

In the wake of apartheid, the flotsam of the divided past flows over Johannesburg and settles, once the tides recede, around Ivan Vladislavic, who, patrolling his patch, surveys the changed cityscape and tries to convey for us the nature and significance of those changes. He roams over grassy mine-dumps, sifting memories, picking up the odd glittering item here and there, before everything of value gets razed or locked away behind one or other of the city’s fortifications. For this is now a city of alarms, locks and security guards, a frontier place whose boundaries are perpetually contested, whose inhabitants are ‘a tribe of turnkeys’. Vladislavic, this clerk of mementoes, stands still, watches and writes – and his astonishing city comes within our reach. This is for readers who want to put their faith in a writer who knows – and loves – his city from the inside out, bearing comparison with Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul and Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark.

A very funny book, it doesn't evade the fact that Joburg is a dangerous place to live...

Gillian Slovo, The Review Show

Surely one of the most ingenious love letters - full of violence, fear, humour and cunning - ever addressed to a city. If Italo Calvino had grown up in Jo'burg and experienced both apartheid and its aftermath this is the kind of book he would have been proud to have written.

Geoff Dyer

Ivan Vladislavic writes of Johannesburg as a "frontier city, a place of contested boundaries" where territory "must be secured and defended or it will be lost". But this isn't just a piece about alarmed houses and razor wire-topped fences. There's wildlife, together with violent poachers; and scenic waterways and lakes, only occasionally despoiled by bodies. It's a passionate account by a man who loves his city, shocking because it so embraces the things most people try to avoid thinking about. This collection has the crackle of authenticity about it.

Independent on Sunday

The Author

Born in Pretoria in 1957, Ivan Vladislavic has lived in Johannesburg since 1977. He is the author of five works of fiction and has been awarded the Olive Schreiner Prize and the South African Sunday Times fiction prize.

More about the author →

Ivan Vladislavic on Granta.com

Fiction | The Online Edition

Exit Strategy

Ivan Vladislavić

‘The corporate storyteller is having a bad day.’

In Conversation | The Online Edition

S.J. Naudé and Ivan Vladislavić In Conversation

S.J. Naudé & Ivan Vladislavić

‘In rapidly transforming societies, writers may lose the space they’ve built their imaginative lives around.’

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition


Ivan Vladislavić

‘When a house has been alarmed, it becomes explosive.’