Portrait with Keys : The City of Johannesburg Unlocked, Paperback

Portrait with Keys : The City of Johannesburg Unlocked Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


An insider capable of revealing his city's spirit and its reality - combines the eloquence of Morris on Trieste with the precision of Cartier-Bresson on Paris.

It is suitable for those who want to put their faith in a writer who knows - and loves - his city from the inside out: Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City", Edmund White's "The Flaneur", Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul", Joseph Brodsky's "Watermark".

In the wake of Apartheid, the flotsam of the divided past flows over Johannesburg and settles, once the tides recede, around Ivan Vladislavic, who, patrolling his patch, surveys the changed cityscape and tries to convey for us the nature and significance of those changes.

He roams over grassy mine-dumps, sifting memories, picking up the odd glittering item here and there, before everything of value gets razed or locked away behind one or other of the city's fortifications.

For this is now a city of alarms, locks and security guards, a frontier place whose boundaries are perpetually contested, whose inhabitants are 'a tribe of turnkeys'.

Vladislavic, this clerk of mementoes, stands still, watches, and writes: and his astonishing city comes within our reach.




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As a former resident of Johannesburg, I thoroughly enjoyed this insider's view of his corner of the city. It is not a tourist's guide, but rather a local resident's thoughtful view of his home, revealing it as both fascinating and complex. The reader will have the pleasure of walking along some of the city's less-traveled streets, guided by excellent writing – smooth and unselfconscious, yet so intelligent and thoughtful as to be occasionally transcendent. The slim volume's collage structure includes vignettes, second-hand tales, episodic insertions, tidbits from diaries and memoirs, histories and newspapers, along with simple lists of items seen. The layered structure hints at an elemental truth about all cities and their people, and this one in particular. Pure pleasure.

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