In Vladislavic´’s (Portrait with Keys) unusual take on South African apartheid, Neville Lister, a college student in Johannesburg in the 1980s, decides that he wants to experience the real world and drops out of university, much to the consternation of his parents. His concerned father has him spend a day with Saul Auerbach, a noted photographer. Auerbach comes up with the idea of picking three houses at random, then photographing their owners and listening to their stories. But after visiting the first two houses, the photographer loses interest and scraps the idea. It is only a decade later that Neville decides to complete Auerbach’s task. In that intervening time, Neville has moved to London to escape army service, become a photographer himself, and returned to Johannesburg to see the changes caused by the end of apartheid. Along the way, we see Neville’s relationship with his widowed mother, we meet the several women in his life, and we are told of his ambivalent attitude toward his art. It’s this ambivalence that makes Neville a frustrating character, although the author crafts the details of his life with a crystalline clarity. The subject of apartheid is treated in the most glancing way, a possible comment on how historical movements are sometimes secondary considerations in the lives of ordinary people. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013 Release date: 11/01/2013 Genre: Fiction
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