Portrait with Keys

The City of Johannesburg Unlocked

Ivan Vladislavic (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

“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, Ivan Vladislavic observes the unpredictable, day-today transformation of his embattled city: the homeless using manholes as cupboards, a public statue slowly cannibalized for scrap. Most poignantly he charts the small, devastating changes along the postapartheid streets: walls grow higher, neighborhoods are gated off, the keys multiply. Security—insecurity?—is the growth industry. Vladislavic, described as “one of the most imaginative minds at work in South African literature today” (André Brink), delivers “one of the best things ever written about a great, if schizophrenic, city, and an utterly true picture of the new South Africa” (Christopher Hope).

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • June 2009
  • ISBN 978-0-393-33540-8
  • 5.5 × 8.2 in / 208 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Reminds me sometimes of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul and sometimes of James Joyce’s Dubliners, but it is altogether one of a kind. . . . He leaves his readers consoled by the feeling that art and goodness alike can be impervious to squalor.” — Jan Morris

Portrait with Keys is a beautiful book, affecting and ingenious, opening new intellectual vistas onto art and architecture, poetry and urbanism.” — Ian Volner, Bookforum

“A rare, brilliant writer. His work eschews all cant. Its sheer verve, the way it burrows beneath ossified forms of writing, its discipline and the distance it places between itself and the jaded preoccupations of local fiction, distinguish it.” — Sunday Times [London]

“A wonderful book about Johannesburg....This is a love letter to Johannesburg and a truly marvelous piece of work. I read it and was deeply moved.” — Justin Cartwright, Literary Review

“A passionate account by a man who loves his city, shocking because it so embraces the things most people try to avoid thinking about.” — The Independent [UK]

“Freshly engaging, with its wry take on security and a homeless underclass that stashes its winter wardrobe in manholes beneath Africa’s richest city.” — Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

“Like the city it studies, Portrait with Keys is complex, with vast rewards for the patient reader.” — Tracey D. Samuelson, Christian Science Monitor

All Subjects