cover image Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked

Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked

Ivan Vladislavic. W. W. Norton & Company, $14.95 (203pp) ISBN 978-0-393-33540-8

In a post-apartheid world, the city of Johannesburg is a complicated place: racial divides still run deep, inextricably interwoven with crime and poverty, and endlessly complicated as the haves and have-nots negotiate new arrangements defined in terms of protection, invasion, and a tenuous level of common feeling. Novelist and Johannesburg resident Vladislavic recounts his day-to-day experiences and examines them from a step removed, watching as his city grows more obsessed with security: walls grow higher, neighbors more suspicious, private security forces more prevalent (hired even for middle class dinner parties). Vladislavic is exploring revolutionary ground, providing one of the most detailed looks yet at the post-apartheid city, helping define it as he ventures through it. Vladislavic can ramble, but does so with humor and care, while offering much insight on class and race relations, and urban survival in general; neither does he resort to overheated righteousness. While a certain amount of fluency in South African culture may be necessary to fully appreciate it, this book with intrigue any reader with its intense, you-are-there depiction of a city in flux.