The Distance

Ivan Vladislavic. Archipelago, $20 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-939810762
A childhood obsession with Muhammad Ali informs the life of a South African writer in Vladislavic’s dazzling, deeply felt meditation on cultural identity and anxiety (after Flashback Hotel). In anticipation of Ali’s first fight with Joe Frazier in 1971, 12 year-old Joe, who is white, creates the first of several scrapbooks dedicated to his hero. The scrapbooks document five years of Ali’s fights and epic celebrity evoking the colorful blow-by-blow prose of pre-television sportswriters, conjuring for Joe an America as mythical as it is distant. While the racial and political conflicts swirling around Ali are greatly relevant in apartheid-era Pretoria, Joe is as much stirred by the fighter’s language, physical beauty, and otherworldly charisma. “He was a floating poem itself,” Joe reflects in the present, “an animate, explosive piece of pop verse, a sprung rhythm.” Joe and his dismissive older brother, Branko, trade narration in alternating sections, recalling their adolescent trials in love, friendship, and family, until tragedy strikes and one brother is left holding the unfinished manuscript they’d worked on together. Vladislavic inserts actual newspaper cuttings into the narrative, which are cited and set in gray text, making this a remarkable ode to the written and spoken word, filled with fascinating and moving metaphysical interventions. The result is an extraordinary palimpsest of pulp reporting, cultural anthropology, and personal diary. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 09/15/2020
Release date: 09/15/2020
Genre: Fiction
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