Books

‘The boundaries of Johannesburg are drifting away, sliding over pristine ridges and valleys, lodging in tenuous places, slipping again. At its edges, where the city fades momentarily into the veld, unimaginable new atmospheres evolve …’
      This half-made world beside the freeways, where Tuscan townhouses are jostled together with township matchboxes and shanties, is the setting for Ivan Vladislavić’s new book. In a quartet of interlinked fictions, he unfolds the stories of four men – a statistician employed on the national census, an engineer out on the town with his council connections, an artist with an interest in genocide and curios, and a contractor who puts up billboards on building sites. As they try to make sense of a changed world, themes that have not been explored before in South African fiction come vividly to life. Ranging effortlessly across distance and time, Vladislavić deftly explodes our comfortable views and shows us what lies behind the seductive surfaces.

One quiet evening, somewhere in the old South Africa, the settled existence of Mr and Mrs Malgas is disrupted by the arrival on the plot next door of a stranger with a plan. Under the curious gaze of his neighbours, Nieuwenhuizen sets about clearing the land of vegetation. Soon he is marking out the ground plan of an elaborate mansion with nails and string. Mr Malgas cannot keep his distance for long.

A private-eye convention and a tussle over a Pierneef. A young man’s unsettling experience in the American South and a tragedy off the coast of Mauritius. A bizarre night of industrial theatre and a translator at a loss for words.
      These are but a few of the fictions in 101 Detectives, a new collection of short stories by Ivan Vladislavić, one of South Africa's most celebrated authors.
      A collection of short stories launched his career as a writer. Twenty-six years and a whole oeuvre later, 101 Detectives showcases Vladislavić’s virtuosity as he bends and recasts this literary form in spectacular fashion

Dropout Neville Lister accompanies acclaimed photographer Saul Auerbach for a day, to learn a lesson for life. They play a game: from a hill above Johannesburg they pick three houses and decide to knock on their doors in search of a story. Auerbach’s images of the first two will become classic portraits, but soon the light fades. Lister only reaches the third house decades later, returning to post-apartheid South Africa and a Johannesburg altered almost beyond recognition. How to live when estranged from your birthplace?        
     
Double Negative captures an ordinary life during South Africa’s extraordinary revolution in a lucid portrait of a city and its people.

In this unusual text, a blend of essay, fiction and literary genealogy, Vladislavić explores the problems and potentials of the fictions he could not bring himself to write. Drawing from his notebooks of the past twenty years, he records a range of ideas for stories – unsettled accounts, he calls them, or case studies of failure – and examines where they came from and why they eluded him. In the process, he reveals some of the principles that matter to him as a writer, and pays tribute to some of the writers – Walser, Perec, Sterne, DeLillo – who have been important to him as a reader.
      At the heart of the text, like a brightly lit room in a field of debris, stands the Loss Library itself, the shelves laden with books that have never been written. On the page, the books tell us, every loss may yet be recovered.

‘I found myself in the thick of things. I shut my eyes experimentally, opened them again. If I was dreaming, the scene should change – but no, everything was exactly as it had been before.’ So begins A Labour of Moles, a small comedy of meaning that unfolds between words and images. Ornan Rotem’s design combines gorgeous colour washes by Num Stibbe and intriguingly detailed line drawings taken from a 1937 edition of Duden’s famous Bildwörterbuch.

TJ/Double Negative is a joint project by the photographer David Goldblatt and the writer Ivan Vladislavić, comprising a book of photographs and a novel. In TJ, Goldblatt presents 300 images drawn from more than sixty years of photographing Johannesburg and its people. Vladislavić’s novel Double Negative was written to accompany the images. Together the two volumes create a resonant conversation between image and text.

Two sought-after collections of short stories by Ivan Vladislavić are brought together and made available again in this new volume. Vladislavić’s abilities as a master of understatement and brevity are brilliantly demonstrated in these stories from Missing Persons (1989), for which he received the Olive Schreiner Prize, and Propaganda by Monuments and Other Stories (1996), featuring the two stories that won him the English Academy’s Thomas Pringle Award for short fiction.

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 poignantly he charts the small, devastating changes along the post-apartheid streets: walls grow higher, neighbourhoods are gated, the keys multiply. Security – insecurity? – is the growth industry.

The Model Men exhibition was the outcome of a joint project by Joachim Schönfeldt, Ivan Vladislaviƒ and Andries Oliphant.
      Schönfeldt initiated the work by producing a series of
>illustrations= for an unwritten text. He then approached Vladislaviƒ and proposed that he write something to fill this absence. Without further prompting from the artist, Vladislaviƒ began writing a response to the images, which evolved into a full-length book of fiction (subsequently published as The Exploded View).
      For the third component of the project, a
>reader= was approached to consider the images and text together and select extracts for an exhibition. The selections made by Andries Oliphant were presented with the illustrations in The Model Men. This speculative exhibition asked questions about the way we construct meaning in images and texts, and in the conversation B or silence B between them.
      The exhibition was curated by Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith at the Wits Art Galleries in August/September 2004. The catalogue that accompanied the exhibition documents the joint project and includes short essays by all three participants.

Willem Boshoff creates art in the flickering play between the verbal and the visual. His early works, KykAfrikaans and the 370-Day Project, are landmarks of concrete poetry and conceptual art in South Africa. In a prolific career spanning more than two decades, he has produced idiosyncratic dictionaries, intricately crafted wooden sculptures, transient installations in sand, and monumental works in stone. If there is a single thread binding these diverse works together, it is a fascination with language and books.
      Boshoff is an artist of gargantuan intellectual appetite and creative ambition. He has trawled through two hundred dictionaries researching his massive Dictionary of Perplexing English; travelled the length and breadth of South Africa gathering samples of wood, soil, seed and stone; and haunted botanical gardens around the world to gather first-hand knowledge of plants for his Garden of Words, aiming to commit the names of thirty thousand species to memory.
     
This book is the first extensive overview of Boshoff’s oeuvre. Combining detailed readings of several major pieces and a sensitive grasp of broader influences, Ivan Vladislavić traces continuities in the work and places it in its social and political context. What emerges is a complex portrait of an artist of many guises: philologist, natural historian, activist, teacher, jester and visionary.

It is 1993, andAubrey Tearle’s world is shutting down. He has recently retired from a lifetime of proofreading telephone directories. His favourite haunt in Hillbrow, the Café Europa, is about to close its doors; the familiar old South Africa is already gone. Standards, he grumbles, are in decline, so bad-tempered, conservative Tearle embarks on a grandiose plan to enlighten his fellow citizens. The results are disastrous, hilarious and poignant.
     
The Restless Supermarket, hailed as a classic novel of the South African transition, was awarded the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2002.

Other Writing

  • 101 Detectives in The Offing

    The title story of Vladislavic's latest collection has appeared in The Offing, an online channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

    Read full story here

  • 'Exit Strategy' in Granta

    This story is drawn from Ivan Vladislavic's new collection 101 Detectives, due to be published by Umuzi in May and by And Other Stories in June. 

    Follow this link to read the full story

  • S.J. Naude and Ivan Vladislavic in conversation, Granta

    S.J. Naude and Ivan Vladislavic exchange ideas about writing. Naude's The Alphabet of Birds will be published by And Other Stories in January.

    Follow this link to read more

  • Chris van Wyk, 1957-2014

    My friend Chris died on 3 October. He wrote two wonderful memoirs, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, and Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch, and that's where you can get to know him. My tribute to Chris is on Books LIVE.

    Follow this link to read more

  • ‘Tango’ in McSweeney’s 42, 2012

    With the help of guest editor Adam Thirlwell (author of Kapow!, Visual Editions), Issue 42 is a monumental experiment in translated literature—twelve stories taken through six translators apiece, weaving into English and then back out again, gaining new twists and textures each time, just as you'd expect a Kierkegaard story brought into English by Clancy Martin and then sent into Dutch by Cees Nooteboom before being made into English again by J.M. Coetzee to do. With original texts by Kafka and Kharms and Kenji Miyazawa, and translations by Lydia Davis and David Mitchell and Zadie Smith (along with others by John Banville and Tom McCarthy and Javier Marías, and even more by Shteyngart and Eugenides and A.S. Byatt), this will be an issue unlike anything you've seen before...

     

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