Special Issues » 2009 Book Issue

Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked

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Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked
By Ivan Vladislavic
W.W. Norton & Company • 183 pages

 

Ivan Vladislavic's portrayal of Johannesburg, post-apartheid, shows a city riddled by crime, poverty, and the palpable division of race.

Using a journal entry format, Vladislavic highlights the seemingly mundane details of, say, the first black tenants moving into his neighborhood.

Vladislavic then subtly records the not-so mundane reaction of his brother Branko to the new neighbors' visibility: "What's wrong with these people? Why don't they stay inside like normal people? What's with the paint tins? Can't they get proper garden furniture?"

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Brako isn't the only one tortured by racism, and the tension only mounts with the rapidly increasing crime of the "new South Africa." This is a beautifully honest first-hand account of the persistent struggle of South Africans to coexist. —Gervase Caycedo

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