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

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  135 ratings  ·  19 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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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...more
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
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!
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
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
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
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.

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
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...more
"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
“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...more
An incredibly crafted book composed of vignettes whose interplay paint a detailed masterpiece of Johannesburg
Gitte Zschoch
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.
Debbie Ann
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.
Vladislavic is like me: loves coffee shops, laments the death of collegiality, frets over possessions, and is sentimental about everything.

Loved it. The parts he described in joburg are part of my own history and hence my soul
Only enjoyed it cos its familiar territory.
Tina Jost
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
More about Ivan Vladislavić...
The Restless Supermarket Double Negative The Exploded View The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories A Labour of Moles

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