As regular readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of Johannesburg. It’s a place where I see mystery, wonder, constant change and the power of the indomitable human spirit. There is another writer who reflect this in so many ways and who I have always thought is routinely under-rated: Ivan Vladislavic.
I first encountered his work with a book entitled “The Restless Supermarket.” This amazing literary work deals with life in and around Hilbrow during the era of the street cafe’s and a vibrant, cosmopolitan life.
I have just spent a few weeks reading his “Portrait With Keys” which is a selection of shorter pieces of writing about the city… mostly non-fictional. Reading this in the heart of Buckinghamshire has been a schizophrenically heart-warming experience.
I have just finished an epic manuscript called Johannesburg and I am very glad that I did not read “Portrait With Keys” before I started… but on the other hand, Ivan’s enthusiasm for the city and its people is equal to my own and his sketches and thoughts have been so illuminating to read post 1st draft for me.
To my mind, the charms of Joburg are routinely and rigorously underplayed, no more so than by its own residents. This has always baffled me. It’s like no-one wants to admit to loving the place, to being here for reasons other than money, career, and competitive advantage. When in fact, there are parts of the city that are simply breath-takingly beautiful. And this is what Vladislavic reveals in his immaculate prose. Be it in a story about a beggar, or visiting the Johannesburg City library, Vladislavic lovingly reveals the softer, human aspects of a place many try and pretend has none.
The fact that Vladislavic is a master of language and of his craft means that it is also poetically, beautifully and fondly executed. If you haven’t read this book, you should. You will never look at Johannesburg the same way again. If you live there, stop pretending you hate the place; go on, buy the book!
Ivan Vladislavic Books online here: