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Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked
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Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  193 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In the wake of apartheid, the flotsam and jetsam of the divided past flow over Johannesburg and settle, once the tides recede, all around the author, who, patrolling his patch, surveys the changed cityscape and tries to convey for us the nature and significance of those changes.
Paperback, 203 pages
Published August 1st 2007 (first published January 1st 2006)
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May 18, 2009 Christy rated it really liked it
No one would ever say Johannesburg is a loveable city. It is ugly, poor, rubbish-strewn; it is crime-infested with one of the world's highest number of murders and hijackings per capita. Yet, through the eyes of Ivan Vladislavic (an unlikely named South African), it becomes a place for memory, an elegy to hauntings and displacement.

An unusual, prize-winning book which pays a tribute to the city from an insider who does not shrink from recording events the way they unfold. There is no romanticis
Sep 21, 2012 Valarie rated it it was amazing
I know this is an excellent book, because every other page I was inspired to pick up my camera and go document my own city! The descriptions of Johannesburg were so vivid that I feel as though I've visited the city myself, even though I've never been to South Africa. As Vladislavic included dialogue and his own feelings, I was able to learn how the effects of apartheid have damaged the country to this day. Through my rose-colored American-made glasses, I only saw the rainbows and national pride, ...more
Alison Smith
Jul 26, 2014 Alison Smith rated it really liked it
Inspired by listening to Vladislavic at the 2014 Franschoek Lit Festival, I re-read his memoir of life in Joburg - for me, this is his most accessible book. He's hit on such a fresh way to write memoir. I'll be reading the book again,m sometime in the future. If you want to find out about life in Joburg, read this book!
Aug 25, 2015 Kai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm getting way too lazy when it comes to walking recently. Luckily not too lazy for reading yet. So I can rejoice in other people's walkings.
This book was recommended to me by a review of a Stuttgart walker who found a like-minded walker in Johannesburg - and coincidentally (if you believe in coincidents) the South African writer with that un-African name Vladislavić had once been given a funded artist residence stay in Stuttgart. (If you read German, you've got to check out this review: https:
Dec 08, 2015 Leif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-best
A book forged from the scraps and scuttling pieces of journalism, nonfiction, and personal essays. The approach is nothing new for Vladislavic (see also The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories) and he does it well. In these pages, next to short pieces about Max the Gorilla and Elias Canetti are woven stories of artistic cultures, human survival, and the architectures of security that make our houses our chains, prisons, castles, homes, an especially immediate question in the changing world ...more
Apr 24, 2010 Lyndon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vladislavic displays the knowledge of a city through a dizzying assortment of engagements, encounters and expeditions. The soul of Joburg is given form through the body of random strangers and the built up environment which constitutes the life of Vladislavic. Whether on his way to the supermarket or the library; whether noticing the social rules of thieves or the trade of point-of-sale at some particular corner, this work reveals the particularity of a writer at home in his skin, as much as in ...more
Sett Wai
Jan 08, 2016 Sett Wai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of vignettes from the author's life in South Africa, particularly in Joburg, mostly through the past 3 decades until early 2000s. And though it is impossible to speak of life in SA without qualifying it through the lens of social class, it is not the focus of the book. Nor is it a memoir or anything like that. It's a compelling, honest "portrait" of middle class South African life, garnished with some damn good prose from a talented writer.

Cliché as it might seem, there is no place
Jan 25, 2008 Sian rated it really liked it
this collection of poignant vignettes gets right at the heart of a city in flux - Vladislavic lays bare Johannesburg's identity crisis; the uncomfortable jarrings of its past and present; its scarred but reconfiguring topography, moving us beyond paranoia and stereotype. if ever you plan to visit this city of gold, don't leave without reading this first.
Eric Dean
Mar 08, 2012 Eric Dean rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
Unlike any writing on the city -- direct, unabashedly honest about post-apartheid South Africa, personal, lyrical, and slightly innovative in form. The narrative is broken into short, numbered vignettes which, in the case of this city, seem the only way to accurately circle any kind of honest description of Johannesburg.

Jul 05, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
Contemporary journalists account of living in Johannesberg-- which makes New York in the 70's look like Mayberry. Fascinating to see what people become when you can't really leave a place that's locked, where public parks, street life, etc., end because it is so unsafe.
Geraldine O'donnell
Jul 27, 2014 Geraldine O'donnell rated it really liked it
I wanted to read this book because I will never be able to visit South Africa and I felt that this would give me a little insight into life in this city.
The book has impressed me greatly by its innovative style, its many cultured references to literature and the arts and the metaphorical charm which threads through it. The paradox of security being a growth industry is saddening.
The writer's humanity towards his fellow citizens is striking and overall I felt a sense of sadness while still mana
Jun 15, 2013 Buchdoktor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, south-africa
"Portrait with Keys - Joburg & what-what", der englische Titel verweist auf den Textabschnitt, in dem eine Besucherin verwundert ein südafrikanisches Schlüsselbund ihrem eigenen gegenüberstellt: Mit 17 Schlüsseln verschließt ihr Gastgeber in Johannesburg die zahlreichen Zusatzschlösser und Gittertore seines Hauses! Vladislavic beschreibt seine Stadt in über 130 zirkulär wie einen Stadtrundgang angeordneten Kurztexten. Seine Beobachtungen beziehen sich auf die Zeit kurz vor der Jahrtausendwen ...more
Kind of a quirky read - 140 essays (in under 200 pages) on the author's life in post-Apartheid South Africa, although in a sense he could've been talking about American cities (St. Louis, Cleveland, etc.) as well. He doesn't so much dwell on the political aspects, but the visual and emotional. I didn't discern a particular order, or structure, to the presentation of entries at all; they seemed more-or-less random to me. The saddest was the filching of a box of sentimental items by a couple of be ...more
Tom Mayer
Nov 25, 2008 Tom Mayer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edited
“Surely one of the most ingenious love letters — full of violence, fear, humour and cunning — ever addressed to a city.” —Geoff Dyer

This dazzling portrait of Johannesburg is one of the most haunting, poetic pieces of reportage about a metropolis since Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City. Through precisely crafted snapshots, Vladislavić observes the unpredictable, day-to-day transformation of his embattled city: the homeless using manholes as cupboards; a public statue slowly cannibalized for scrap. Most
Vincent Scarpa
Apr 22, 2015 Vincent Scarpa rated it it was ok
Occasionally engaging, mostly pretty tone-deaf, often smacks of privilege, unimpressing on the language level, and overwhelmingly forgettable save for the few anecdotes he passes along from others.
Cat Christy
Dec 28, 2014 Cat Christy rated it it was amazing
Every Joburg resident should read this. Nostalgic in the best possible way.
Beatrice Ugolini
May 18, 2016 Beatrice Ugolini rated it really liked it
Now they've read it, the title is so much funnier...
Feb 09, 2014 Kinosfronimos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredibly crafted book composed of vignettes whose interplay paint a detailed masterpiece of Johannesburg
Oct 22, 2012 Gitte rated it liked it
Some interesting episodes about Johannesburg and its history. Some are extremely well written, but some seemed like they said nothing. The episode style did not meet my taste. A book in blog format before there were blogs? Never finished it, but I did appreciate the perspective on the city, as I lived near where the author lived when he wrote the book, and that it gave insight into Johannesburg's 1980s and 1990s.
May 24, 2016 Evansl rated it it was amazing
Masterpiece. No other word for it.
Mark NP
Finally! It took forever to read this memoir. It is short but dense. You come away knowing as much about Johannesburg as you do about Vladislavic's perspective in it. I would have liked to have experienced this place before reading about it.
Debbie Ann
Dec 11, 2012 Debbie Ann rated it liked it
Shelves: johannesburg
A good introduction to Johannesburg from a personal point of view. It is clear he cares about the city and I liked his descriptions of different neighbourhoods.
Jun 27, 2011 Thomas rated it really liked it
Vladislavic is like me: loves coffee shops, laments the death of collegiality, frets over possessions, and is sentimental about everything.
Oct 08, 2012 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Loved it. The parts he described in joburg are part of my own history and hence my soul
Feb 17, 2011 Michele rated it liked it
Only enjoyed it cos its familiar territory.
Tina Jost
Jul 30, 2011 Tina Jost rated it did not like it
so boring. on of the 2 books I did not finish.
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Ivan Vladislavić was born in Pretoria in 1957 and lives in Johannesburg, where he works as a writer and editor. His books include the novels "The Restless Supermarket", "The Exploded View" and "Double Negative", and a compendium of short stories titled "Flashback Hotel". In 2006, he published "Portrait with Keys", a sequence of documentary texts on Johannesburg. He has edited books on architecture ...more
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