Edited by Gerald Gaylard (Wits University Press, 2011)
This book is a collection of critical writing by 25 South African writers appreciating, evaluating and celebrating two decades of literary work by the acclaimed Johannesburg author Ivan Vladislavic. It is a treat not to be missed because it opens up the work of so many good writers in South Africa.
Wits alumnus Vladislavic is a literary prize winner of note and this book brings together book reviews, interviews and articles by his peers about his work. Many of the contributions were published previously but are now rewritten and edited afresh in a collection likely to appeal to academics and a wider public. The collection signals the importance of Vladislavic’s writing. It explains the sense in which his work explores the peripheral and the marginal as a way of understanding the deeper nuances and painful undercurrents in South Africa during the late apartheid and transitional years. The value of a collection of essays is that it gives a sense of the durability and evolution of thought and writing both by Vladislavic and by his fellow writers and journalists.
One of the most visually appealing and satisfying books produced by Wits University Press was T’kama Adamastor: Inventions of Africa in a South African Painting (2000), edited by Vladislavic. This fine work does not feature in the discussion but it is an example of the writer’s quality and versatility.
A penetrating introductory essay explains the minimalist aesthetic present in Vladislavic’s writing. The book offers a potpourri of responses, reviews, opinions and evaluations from a range of perspectives. Vladislavic’s talent, exhibited in his novels, short stories, creative photography, editing and non-fiction, is critically lauded. This tribute whets the appetite for more of his work and that of the critics.
Gerald Gaylard is an Associate Professor of English at Wits and writes widely on postcolonial literature and aesthetics. His selection of articles, both new and old, is clustered into themes, such as Architectonic Resistance, Surreal Apartheid Pathologies, Deconstruction, etc. Fred de Vries, in a 2006 essay “Lost in Translation”, addresses the difficulties of translating Vladislavic’s The Restless Supermarket into Dutch and what went wrong with some hilarious results. The 2002 review by the late Lionel Abrahams of the same novel offers both the sharp wit of Abrahams and a glimpse into Vladislavic’s novel (which won the 2002 Sunday Times Fiction Prize). My favourite theme, simply because I too have a passion for Johannesburg, is the section entitled Urban Aesthetics, where four authors discuss Portrait with Keys (2006), which won the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. In summary, the book offers a rich feast of contemporary South African writing.
KA Munro, Honorary Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Town Planning