cover image The Exploded View

The Exploded View

Ivan Vladislavic. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $18 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-914671-68-8

The latest from Vladislavic (The Folly), a South African known for his knotty, wry narratives of the post-Apartheid era, is a stimulating journey around Johannesburg and into the restless minds of its inhabitants. Comprising four sections, the book surveys the city and its environs through the eyes of four introspective men, assembling a collage-like portrait of a metropolis from its sewer system to its high-arts scene. A statistician testing new versions of a national census questionnaire becomes infatuated with one of the respondents, a television anchor living at an upscale housing development called Villa Toscana, which induces a “dreamlike blend of familiarity and displacement.” Inspecting a shoddily constructed affordable apartment complex, a white sanitation engineer ponders the project’s blend of optimism and futility, as well as the country’s race relations, over a meal with black colleagues. A mixed-media artist slices up kitschy animal masks, “liberating the curio from its stifling form” while ignoring their provenance and the craftsmen who made them. Finally, a billboard erector’s stalled journey home sets his mind racing. The title refers to those Ikea-like diagrams in which an object is exploded into its component parts; the characters enjoy no such coherent vision of how everything fits together in South Africa’s fractured cultural landscape. A sense of unease often permeates these subtly linked tales, which skillfully lay out a disorienting blueprint of modern Johannesburg. (Mar.)