Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked by Ivan Vladislavic - review by Justin Cartwright

Justin Cartwright

A Love Letter to Jo’burg

Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked


Portobello Books 199pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

I sometimes think that book and play reviews are really only truly interesting after you have seen the play or read the book for yourself. The South African writer and publisher’s editor, Ivan Vladislavic, has written a wonderful book about Johannesburg. For me it has been like reading an exceptionally perceptive reviewer on a play or book I have loved, a reviewer who articulates brilliantly what I have only half perceived.

Johannesburg is a city which many people find hard to like, but those of us who were brought up there find it endlessly fascinating and lively, even as it metamorphoses into an African city after its first hundred years as the standard-bearer of white capitalist enterprise in Africa.

Vladislavic has lived in Johannesburg since the early Seventies, more or less coinciding with the period in which I have not lived there, although I have been back many, many times and indeed was involved over three years in a film charting the social and cultural dilemmas of the place

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