by Greg Penfold


The most famous unknown

ivan photo.jpg

South Africa has contributed its fair share to world literature, with a veritable diaspora of talent New York, London, Paris and Perth, but the writer dubbed “a stylist without equal” by Teju Cole has chosen to fight his corner in Johannesburg. Leadership engages with Ivan Vladislavić, South Africa's most famous unknown author.

Life imitates art, sings Lana Del Rey, echoing Oscar Wilde. In the case of Ivan Vladislavić, it is more a case of their being inextricably intertwined, to the point that it is impossible to tell them apart. But his childhood, at least, was a relatively uncomplicated affair. Growing up in central Pretoria, sheltered by the eye of the hurricane already plucking at apartheid's glib facade (the Alexandra Bus Boycott broke out in the year of his birth, 1957), he spent his early years in a polyglot environment, where the English spoken by the family at home was enriched by the Serbo-Croat conversations between his father and grandfather and the Afrikaans of the inner city people by whom he was surrounded. As he recalls, “The part of the city I grew up in was quite an Afrikaans area, there were a lot of Afrikaners around. There were quite a few Afrikaners who married into my family and my parents were both very comfortable speaking Afrikaans and had Afrikaans friends and so on, so I wasn't uncomfortable with it.”

This sense of relaxed integration was not to last. At the age of “nine or ten”, the Vladislavić family moved out to the suburbs. There Ivan came face to face with the sort of tense social polarisation familiar from books like J.M. Coetzee's Boyhood and films like The Power of One. “I had more of a sense of hostility between English speakers and Afrikaners, once I moved out to that part of the city. There was certainly the usual rivalry from my friends between English speakers and Afrikaans kids. There were a lot of clod fights at the bus stop in the morning, a lot of rooinekking and rockspidering among the kids on the street and the actual fights, actual physical fights. There was actually quite a lot of growing distance from the Afrikaner culture, although when I went to university I studied Afrikaans literature and I always felt close to the language.”

Undoubtedly, this movement from the open life of the city centre to the atomised suburb made its mark on Vladislavić: an engagement with the idea of public space – and its opposite, the gated community – is evident throughout his published work, from Missing Persons (1989) to A Labour Of Moles (2011). The risk of being out in the open, exposed to violence and the emotions it excites, would have worked their way into the boy's imagination, just as he was developing his talent as a writer: “Writing compositions was my favourite activity at school,” recalls the winner of the Standard Four composition prize. “I think it was a question of making things up, writing things down and making up stories. Then I was encouraged by a couple of teachers - I had one English teacher when I was at high school who instituted writing notes with the idea that if you wanted to you could keep the notes and look at what you are writing. That was probably when I started writing a lot for myself if you like.”

The writing continued after school when Vladislavić went to study at the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, the city where he was to stay, between intervals, for the rest of his life until today. Yet publication was slow to come: “I never published anything until my university years. I never published at all, I think the first fiction I published in a magazine was in the 1980s, 79 or 80. I had done quite a bit of writing by then - I had even put a manuscript for a book of stories together, but I actually haven't published some of them, which is probably in retrospect a good thing.”

No sooner had the first book appeared in print, though, than Vladislavić began to attract the critical acclaim that he has consistently enjoyed. As Michiel Heyns has written, “Vladislavić has from the start worked with a kind of heightened reality, whereby the everyday assumes a surreal clarity. The stories are set in a recognisable South Africa, and are yet distorted into dream or nightmare.”

Missing Persons won the Olive Schreiner Prize in 1991; Vladislavić hasn't looked back since.

The Venice of the South

As time passed and the literary accolades accumulated (the CNA Literary Award, the Thomas Pringle Prize... ) the absurdity and surrealism of Vladislavić's fiction began to be complemented with a growing spirit of place. The Restless Supermarket (Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2002) is rooted firmly in Hillbrow, while Portrait With Keys (Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for Nonfiction 2007, University of Johannesburg Prize 2007) offers nothing less than a philosophical anatomy of the city conveyed through meditations, reflections, and yarns collected by Vladislavić in the course of his peripatetic wanderings over a period of years. The Exploded View and Double Negative (University of Johannesburg Prize 2011, M-Net Literary Awards 2011) delve into the benign psychopathy of the gated community and the art of living as a self-renewing fiction respectively.

The Venice of the South, as with affectionate irony he refers to Joburg,(“the economic and cultural heart of South Africa”), is Vladislavić's ship of state and he has nailed his colours to its mast. But why Joburg? The answer is quite simply: “I suppose I am attached to Johannesburg. I actually like the place, which I suppose one shouldn't admit in public, but I think it has some really wonderful qualities about it. It's something completely paradoxical. It’s quite an open city in a funny way of course, it is completely different from other cities in many ways, but it’s the interaction with other people in Johannesburg that I find quite open. It's a city where people tend to live openly. You can do things in Joburg that you can't get away with in other places. People have a feeling there are spaces, spaces in which people can do things and invent things and invent themselves, which I think is what Joburg is all about. It comes with a kind of instability and insecurity which is all part of the slightly haphazard openness … I always like the cultural energies in the groups. There's a kind of cliché that Joburg is full of energy. I always like the cultural energy though. When I first came here as a student we used to go to the Market Theatre a lot, for instance. It’s the kind of cultural space one couldn’t imagine in other cities. Of course it is a challenging place to live in, but it also rewards you with a lot because you could learn something new and unexpected things happen. You can never really predict the things that happen in Joburg. One always thinks you know where the city is going, then you are surprised because something happens that confound your expectations. That is an interesting environment to live in. There is always something to write about. Of course the unpredictability is also part of the difficulty of living here, and not just living here as a citizen but as a writer… As a writer you also have to keep your wits about you and keep your eyes open otherwise you don't really notice what's happening and you can get stuck in a version of things that is not in effect reality.”

To illustrate the paradoxical nature of Joburg, Vladislavić relates an anecdote: “I have a friend, an Italian composer, and she came out to do some work here a few years ago and she lived in Rome. She grew up there, she always lived in Rome and I was showing her around Joburg and she really liked the city and said ''what I really love about this place is that there is so much history here”. And I thought that was kind of amusing, coming from someone who lives in a place like Europe where there is so much history compared to Joburg, which is a city that is 120 years old, but she felt a sense of the fabric of the place, the culture.”

Close encounters of the word kind

The past is a foreign country; all the more so when it is fictional.

On its first publication, on the eve of political transformation in 1993, Vladislavić's first novel, The Folly, was hailed as something rich and strange: perhaps the most arresting specimen of the absurd, the surreal and the satirical since Etienne Leroux's Silbersteins trilogy in the '60s.

The publisher's blurb reads as follows: “Mr and Mrs Malgas are going quietly about their lives when an eccentric squatter called Niewenhuizen arrives on the vacant plot next to their home and plans to build an elaborate mansion. Slowly, Father, as Nieuwenhuizen likes to be called, draws Mr Malgas into his grand scheme, while Mrs Malgas keeps an anxious watch from her lounge window.”

When Umuzi Press decided to bring out a new edition of the book this year, it was necessary for the author to revisit the text for the first time in more than two decades. “I think it is quite strange and a bit unnerving to have the work republished. I have done a trial run because my two story collections were re-issued by Umuzi – in 2010 they put out Missing Persons and Propaganda by Monuments in a single volume – so I had the experience of going back to the early work. It's similar with The Folly, it is the first time I've been and read through the whole thing since I published it and did a proof reading on it. It's quite strange because one has a slight sense of approaching a book that’s been written by someone else – it feels like it's been touched. As an author it is quite interesting. For me it is wonderful that my publisher wants to keep my work in print, because it is a difficult market and a difficult market for publishing anywhere and it is very hard for writers to get books into print at all.”

It is easy to see how in 1993, this novel, which won the CNA Literary Award, could have been construed as a satire of white society under apartheid: the disconnect between the gruesome TV reportage of burning shacks and the humdrum life of the Malgas household (Mr Hardware and his wife, with their Gomma Gomma furniture and collection of knick-knacks), until the advent of Nieuwenhuizen, like some demented pied piper leading Malgas astray until, after disciplined practice, he develops the ability to see things that don't exist, much like the charisma of a Verwoerd charmed people into believing in absurdities like separate development, taalsuiwerheid and other fictions. But is that what Vladislavić was really getting at? On reflection, it turns out this novel cannot be confined to any particular time and place.

Vladislavić comments, “I don't think I had actually a very clear plan at all when I started writing it ... And I think that's reflected in a way in the peculiar elusiveness of it … which I found myself when I reread the book. It doesn't seem to be about one thing or another. The reading of the book as a satire on the delusions of apartheid makes sense, but it also seems to be a satire on colonialism as well, when I look at it again. The romanticism of the veld seems to be a send-up of the settler.”
At the same time Vladislavić detects “something like a tonal link” to Marlene van Niekerk's prize-winning novel Triomf: “I think the world she created there is a much bigger, a much fuller crazier world, but even the people seem to be the kind of social class the social world, I see the connections there. Certainly with that book it must have come up at pretty much the same time.”

At the same time, he continues, “You could also say it’s also about the construction of the novel itself or the construction of an artwork -what goes into imagining something , but I think just think .playing with ideas and inventiveness and vision and a whole lot of different ideas that I must have had as a young artist. Like a slippery allegorical stature, although not really an allegory, because you can't match each element of the story onto something out there in the world, or find some conceptual consistency to it all. But it is open to a lot of different interpretations.”

This tendency towards “slippery allegory” is partly what imbues Vladislavić's work with a universal appeal. In a review of Flashback Hotel, Michiel Heyns wrote, “Even where the setting itself is less specific, as in ‘The Terminal Bar’, the terms of reference tend to be recognisably local. Here, for instance, we have the gruesome comedy of a family murderer, one Boshoff, who shot his wife and daughter, affectionately known as Bossies: 'Then he turns the weapon on himself, but can’t pull the trigger. ‘He discovered,’ says Father O’ Reilly, ‘that he had too much to live for.’' This is a story, we feel, that could only have been set in South Africa.”

Except that is not at all the case. At one point in the story, for the edification of his fellow travellers, Boshoff demonstrates the method of torture he prefers, acting out the various stages of the process – a procedure identical to the modus operandi of The Act of Killing, the acclaimed, unbearably shocking documentary about a group of Indonesian torturers and murderers who set out to make a film of their exploits in the 1960s, when, in an orgy of violence, they assisted the dictator Suharto's rise to power. Throughout the documentary the former killers, whose exploits are celebrated as virtuous and just by the state apparatus, reenact the scenes of their “glory days” in the firm belief that they are making “a happy family movie”. The fault lines this film reveals in official Indonesian ideology – the lies people have to swallow to live with their actions and sleep at night – are the same cracks that appear in Vladislavić's footsteps as he strolls his way through the fictions composing South African consensus reality.

Walk the line

The emphasis on walking in Portrait With Keys aligns Vladislavić with the literary tradition of the flâneur, along with figures such as Baudelaire, Dickens, WG Sebald and Iain Sinclair, not to mention Herman Charles Bosman.

Walking, to hear him talk about it, is not merely an enjoyable activity – in a city like Johannesburg, it is an act of principle: “I've always enjoyed walking; when I was younger I used to do a lot of trail walking - I enjoyed the activity. In Johannesburg I suppose I walk in quite a stubborn way, it is not an obvious place to walk in. A lot of people, if they can avoid it, would choose not to walk around in Joburg. I walk for different reasons, partly getting away from the desk. It's a way of thinking, I find it clears my head - I think the relationship between the thoughts of solitary speculations in a public place if you like... I like walking around in public places. I find that if I am stuck on something I find that if I go out for a walk it resolves itself. And then I suppose the whole notion of public spaces is important to me and the idea that it should be part of public life in a city. If you go outside in Joburg you are nearly always putting yourself in a potentially dangerous and vulnerable position. Yet it is important that spaces should be kept open and available for people. Of course you can pick up and learn a lot about Joburg by driving around, and you get a version of the city that is quite interesting. But actually walking you get a close-up on some things and you are open to particular encounters which otherwise might not happen. It can be negative too, there is quite a lot of hostility out there, but you meet people on open ground in a way, out on the pavements. That kind of encounter is not possible when you are in a more controlled and therefore more predictable environment, whether it’s in your own housing complex or in a shopping mall - when you look out on the pavements you are open to a different kind of interaction process. It is a democratic process.”

(It's instructive to compare Vladislavić's thoughts with the following statement by Iain Sinclair, published on the “official unofficial” Iain Sinclair website:

Walking itself, if you have the time to walk for a period of hours, does engender a fugue-like state, which is an interesting thing to achieve. You get into a natural rhythm, establish a dialogue with the landscape, and it brings with it a receptive state of mind for creating fiction or gathering documentary evidence, whatever you might be doing. So in that sense it’s a useful tactic. In another sense it has almost become a radical political act just to walk. The whole political bias in London is moving towards getting people onto bicycles; so you have these rows of blue Barclays-sponsored cycles, and you’re supposed to ride about advertising a disgraced bank that isn’t even putting money into the scheme anymore. Bicycles are taking over the pavements, the canal banks, everything – and of course walking, as a life style, goes to the bottom of the pile, because there’s no way you can exploit the walker. There’s nothing to buy into, nothing can be done with pedestrianism, unless you can get walkers dressed up in sponsored T-shirts advertising some conspicuous charity. Making a designer boast about ecological credentials. The walker is the last anarchist of the city.)

A question of authenticity

What constitutes authenticity in writing, and how does Vladislavić satisfy himself that his own work meets this standard? How does he audit his own writing for fraud?
“There is a much quoted passage in Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida where he compares photography and writing. You can be sure of a photograph, he says. If there’s a photograph of you in a certain place, it means you were there. (Let’s leave aside how easy it is these days to manipulate an image: Barthes was writing in 1980.) The essence of a photograph ‘is to ratify what it represents’. Writing, he says, is an entirely different matter. ‘It is the misfortune (but also perhaps the voluptuous pleasure) of language not to be able to authenticate itself.’ Compared to a photograph, a piece of fiction seems like a very flimsy, elusive construct. Not even smoke and mirrors, but ‘smoke’ and ‘mirrors’.
“Fraud is an interesting choice of word. When you’re in the business of making things up, it’s easy to imagine that the product is deceitful or dishonest. The circus that surrounds the publishing of books can also make you feel that you’re practising an act rather than an art. My guard against these feelings is to remember, if I can, why I started writing in the first place, to focus on the work itself and enjoy the making as much as possible, and to leave judgments about the fraudulence of the finished product to the auditors.”

Backroom boy

In parallel with his writing career, Vladislavić has developed a reputation as perhaps South Africa's finest editor, exerting an unseen influence on some of the most prominent names on the literary scene. He comments, “I started out at Ravan Press in 1984 as a social studies editor, and also worked as assistant editor on Staffrider magazine. After seven or eight years of close association with Ravan, I became a freelancer and have worked at that ever since. Editing and writing are generally regarded as incompatible professions, and for good reason: creative, engaged editing demands some of the same thought and energy that goes into writing. Somehow or other, I’ve managed to balance the two, although it hasn’t been easy. In the beginning, I did a lot of copy-editing, but in recent years it has mainly been structural editing, reading manuscripts in progress and advising writers on the broad questions of structure, flow, pace and so on. The most recent book I worked on in this way was Glenn Moss’s The New Radicals. I’ve worked with many wonderful writers over the years – Tim Couzens, Charles van Onselen, Jonny Steinberg, Antjie Krog, Chris van Wyk, Achmat Dangor, to name a few.”
Editing has a creative dimension all its own, Vladislavić emphasises: “I also edit in the sense of helping to conceptualize and commission certain books. In general, these projects have been quite closely interwoven with my own writing. The major book of this kind was blank_Architecture, apartheid and after, an extensive collection of written and visual essays which I co-edited with Hilton Judin in 1998 for the Netherlands Architecture Institute. It was a hugely illuminating and challenging project and shaped my interests as a writer over the following decade. Last year I edited Ponte City for the photographers Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. It’s a book of photographs layered with a set of essays about the social and mythological life of this landmark Johannesburg apartment building. It’s just been published by Steidl.”

New worlds to conquer

As Vladislavić's stock continues to rise on the international literary scene, fuelled primarily by his Joburg fictions (new editions of The Restless Supermarket and Double Negative by And Other Stories press have attracted the sort of effusive praise ordinarily reserved for the holy trilogy of Brink, Gordimer and Coetzee), his work has acquired a sort different strangeness, away from Johannesburg and into the weird. The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories brings the literary fragment to life as an art form, while A Labour of Moles “takes the reader into a realm utterly alien and at the same time as familiar as the letters forming the words on the page and the very building-blocks of fiction,” according to the publisher. Forthcoming work promises to braid these strands:

“In the last few months, I finished a collection of stories called 101 Detectives. Some of the pieces go back to the late nineties, others were written very recently. Structuring the book was an interesting exercise. Creating a sequence out of disparate elements, trying to find symmetry and contrast, often reveals the hidden connections between the parts, things you don’t see when you look at them in isolation. It’s as if the structuring is a kind of critical reading. In this case, I was surprised at some of the themes that were flushed out and at how the parts cohered. The book will be published in the new year by Umuzi in South Africa and And Other Stories abroad.”

Banging in the nails: Niewenhuizen lays his plan

Nieuwenhuizen's hat hung at an impudent angle in the thorn-tree and his boots stood side by side on the ground below with their tongues sticking out. Taken together hat and boots suggested nothing so much as an invisible man.

Nieuwenhuizen in person, the object of the invisible one's scrutiny, stood at attention nearby – in the north-western corner of block IF – gazing candidly into the sunrise. Until this moment the sun had been rising irrecoverably like a child's balloon, but now it stood still, surprisingly enough, as if a dangling string had caught in the branches of the hedge.

Although he appeared to be considering the implications of this earth-shattering improbability, Nieuwenhuizen's thoughts were in fact on the top of his head and the soles of his feet, which were developing pins and needles. He furrowed his forehead and shimmied his eyebrows in an effort to flush some blood into his scalp. He stretched his toes. He flexed his left hand, which was in his pocket: that was at least in good condition and ready for the task that lay ahead. His right hand, by contrast, was frozen into a claw around his flint hammer, and felt numb and unwieldy. To crown it all, the bandoleer, with its freight of nails, began to hurt his shoulder.

He was on the point of conceding defeat and retreating to his tent, when the sun escaped from the grasp of the hedge and bobbed up into the sky.

'Optical illusion,' he said with a sigh of relief, and sallied forth.

He stepped off with his right foot and took six stiff paces. The earth felt unusually firm and steady. When his left foot came down for the third time, in the middle of IE, he flung the hammer in his right hand forward with all his might, pivoted on his heel, toppled sideways, flew into the air, flapped after the hammer like a broken wing, went rigid as a statue in mid-air, hung motionless for a long, oblique instant, and crashed to earth with a cry of triumph. He levered himself up and located the impression of his heel on the ground; then the starch went out of him and he flopped down on all fours to get a good look at the mark. It was shaped like a comma, with a bloated head and a short, limp tail. He took a nail from the bandoleer and pressed its point into the comma. Then, swinging his right arm like a piece of broken furniture, he hammered the nail into the ground.

Sparks flew! He was satisfied.

He closed his eyes, stretched out both arms and turned in circles, clock-wise, counting under his breath. 'Two thousand and one, two thousand and two, two thousand and three … ' At this point he stopped, ran on the spot, fell on his knees, patted the earth with his palms, pummelled it with his fists, sniggered, jumped up again and began to turn in circles, anti-clockwise. 'Two thousand and three, two thousand and two, two thousand and one … There, that's better.'

He fixed his eyes on the stunted appendage that passed for the chimney of Malgas's house, extended his arms once again like a tightrope artist, and proceeded in measured paces across the plot. The hammer in his right hand disturbed his balance and introduced an unsightly wobble into his limbs, but his head for a change was completely still. He gritted his teeth and kept going, step after step, until at last his whole frame was vibrating like a dowsing-rod. With a final effort of will he threw himself into the air, cracked his heels together and struck the earth with his head. Light-bulbs flickered in his brain. He saw the firmament, tricked out with stars in pastel colours, and three scrawny birds, scavengers, flapping tiredly in a circle. Then everything went dark.

When he came to his senses his head was throbbing. He had no idea how much time had been lost, although he could have worked it out easily enough from the position of the sun. Sitting up and looking about, he was cheered to discover on the ground a perfectly legible imprint of the back of his head. Auspiciously, it was in VID. He pulled a hot, oily nail from a loop and bashed it into the ground in the middle of the depression.

The planting of this second nail left him drained and disorientated, so he paced the next three out sedately, marking the spot for each one with his elbow as if he was testing the baby's bath-water and tapping them in as if they were made of glass. It happened that the fifth nail lay in a far-flung corner, IA, where the hedge met the Malgases' wall, and the desolate surroundings weighed so heavily upon him that he resolved to find a resting-place for nail number six in the more hospitable neighbourhood of his own homestead.

Accordingly, he put his left foot in front of his right, bent his knees, and swept his arms up behind his back like a diver. He raised the toes of his left boot and the heel of his right. Then he swung his arms forward and brought his hands together in front of him, clutching his flint, at the same time raising the heel of his left foot and the toes of his right. Then he went back to the first position, breathed in, held it to a count of ten, returned to the second position and breathed out. Then he rocked from the second position to the first and back again five times, and once more for luck. And then he ran forward, hopped, skipped, dodged, ducked, rolled head over heels, swerved, leap-frogged over the ash-heap and bore down upon the thorn-tree as if he intended to pass straight through it.

At the last moment he bounced on the balls of his feet – he was warm as toast by now, he was doggerel in motion – and leapt onto an overhanging branch. It was a pin-point landing, and he sustained just one superficial scratch on his shin. He quickly located the launching site and, hanging upside-down from his heels, was able to position the sixth nail (IIA) before dropping down to dispatch it with a few assertive blows. Fireworks!

When it came to lucky number seven, he was bold enough to attempt a backflip with a half-twist over the tent, nearly pulled it off, belly-flopped, and consoled himself with a catnap.

(Extracted from The Folly, pp. 82-85.)

A Vladislavić bibliography


Missing Persons, stories (David Philip, Cape Town, 1990).

The Folly, a novel (David Philip, Cape Town, 1993; Serif, London, 1994).

Propaganda by Monuments and Other Stories (David Philip, Cape Town, 1996).

The Restless Supermarket, a novel (David Philip, Cape Town, 2001).

The Exploded View, a novel (Random House South Africa, Johannesburg, 2004).

Flashback Hotel, reissue of Missing Persons and Propaganda by Monuments (Umuzi, Cape Town, 2010).

TJ/Double Negative, with David Goldblatt (Umuzi, Cape Town, 2010; Contrasto, Rome, 2010).

Double Negative, a novel (Umuzi, Cape Town, 2011).

The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories, unfinished stories (Seagull Books, 2012).

A Labour of Moles, novella (Sylph Editions – Cahiers Series, 2011).

The Restless Supermarket and The Folly have been re-issued by Umuzi as well as And Other Stories.


The Model Men, exhibition catalogue with text and images by Joachim Schönfeldt, and texts by Ivan Vladislavić and Andries Walter Oliphant (University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, 2004).

Willem Boshoff, Taxi-011 (David Krut Publishing, Johannesburg, 2005).

Portrait with Keys, Joburg & what-what (Umuzi, Cape Town, 2006; Portobello, London, 2006; Norton, New York, 2009).

As editor

Ten Years of Staffrider Magazine: 1978–1988, an anthology of work from the magazine, compiled and edited with Andries Oliphant (Ravan Press, Johannesburg, 1988).

blank_Architecture, apartheid and after, edited with Hilton Judin (Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam, 1998; David Philip, Cape Town, 1998).

T’kama-Adamastor: Inventions of Africa in a South African Painting, compiled and edited (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2000).

Books in translation

Die Terminal Bar und andere endgültige geschichten (dipa-Verlag, Frankfurt, 1994; tr. Gabriele Cenefels; German translation of Missing Persons).

Portés disparus (Éditions Complexe, Brussels, 1997; tr. Jean-Pierre Richard and Julie Sibony; French translation of Missing Persons).

Der Plan des Baumeisters (dipa-Verlag, Frankfurt, 1998; tr. Marion Walter; German translation of The Folly).
Mahnitost (Feral Tribune, Split, 1999; tr. Miloš Durdević; Serbo-Croat translation of The Folly).

Le Banc ‘réservé aux Blancs’ (Éditions Zoé, Carouge-Genève, 2004; tr. Christian Surber; French translation of ‘The WHITES ONLY Bench’).

De rusteloze supermarkt (Uitgeverij Contact, Amsterdam, 2004; tr. Richard Kruis; Dutch translation of The Restless Supermarket).

Les Monuments de la propagande (Éditions Zoé, Carouge-Genève, 2005; tr. Christian Surber; French translation of Propaganda by Monuments).

La Vue Éclatée (Éditions Zoé, Carouge-Genève, 2007; tr. Christian Surber; French translation of The Exploded View).

Johannesburg: Uno Stradario (Tirrenia Stampatori, Torino, 2007; tr. Carmen Concilio; partial translation into Italian of Portrait with Keys).

Johannesburg: Insel aus Zufall (A1 Verlag, Munich, 2008; tr. Thomas Brückner; German translation of Portrait with Keys).

Snabbköpet Rastlös (Tranan, Stockholm, 2008; tr. Jan Ristarp; Swedish translation of The Restless Supermarket).
Portrett med nøkler: Om å låse opp byen Johannesburg (Humanist forlag, Oslo, 2008; Norwegian translation of Portrait with Keys).

Clés pour Johannesbourg: Portrait de ma ville (Éditions Zoé, Carouge-Genève, 2009; tr. Nida and Christian Surber; French translation of Portrait with Keys).

TJ/Doppia Negazione, with David Goldblatt (Contrasto, Rome, 2010; tr. Maria Baioccchi; Italian translation of TJ/Double Negative).

The Folly (Éditions Zoé, Carouge-Genève, forthcoming; French translation).

The Exploded View (Tranan, Stockholm, forthcoming; tr. Jan Ristarp; Swedish translation).

Awards & distinctions


Kraszna-Krausz Award for Best Photography Book for TJ/Double Negative with David Goldblatt.

University of Johannesburg Prize (for 2010) for Double Negative.

M-Net Literary Award (for 2011) for Double Negative.


Alan Paton Award for Portrait with Keys.

University of Johannesburg Prize (for 2006) for Portrait with Keys.


Sunday Times Fiction Prize (for 2002) for The Restless Supermarket.


Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (for 1997): Honourable Mention for Propaganda by Monuments.


CNA Literary Award (for 1993) for The Folly.

Thomas Pringle Prize (for 1994) for two stories, ‘Propaganda by Monuments’ and ‘The WHITES ONLY Bench’.


Olive Schreiner Prize (for 1991) for Missing Persons.

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