The Distance

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UPC: 9781939810762
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Authors: Ivan Vladislavic
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Archipelago (September 15, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 210 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1939810760
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1939810762

A boxing bildungsroman - a collage of memories, love, resistance, and the spectacle of Muhammed Ali in Apartheid South Africa.

In the spring of 1970, a Pretoria schoolboy, Joe, becomes obsessed with Muhammad Ali. He begins collecting daily newspaper clippings about him, a passion that grows into an archive of scrapbooks. Forty years later, when Joe has become a writer, these scrapbooks become the foundation for a memoir of his childhood. When he calls upon his brother, Branko, for help uncovering their shared past, meaning comes into view in the spaces between then and now, growing up and growing old, speaking out and keeping silent.


"The Distance is a skillfully conducted chorus of language and voices. . . Vladislavić deftly alternates between the two narrators with a speed that, in the hands of a lesser linguist, could leave readers with verbal whiplash but, in this case, serves to highlight the fact that even shared memories can be vastly different. . . This contemplative coming-of-age story set in Apartheid-era South Africa is juxtaposed with the iconic Muhammad Ali fights."  --Grace Rajendran, in Shelf Awareness

"South African novelist Vladislavić delivers a moving, closely observed study in family dynamics in a time of apartheid...Vladislavić's tale unfolds with grace and precision. A memorable, beautifully written story of love and loss."
 -- Kirkus, Starred Review

"This bittersweet story of hero worship and political awakening has a pole-axing sting in the tail. It focuses on two brothers, Joe and Branko, growing up white in Seventies South Africa...We cut between the two men in name-tagged segments that mingle recollections of adolescent longing with sharply observed scenes of their hesitant relationship as adults..In this instantly engaging novel, told in thoughtful but direct style, all the cleverness is under the bonnet." 
— Daily Mail

"Set in apartheid South Africa, this allegory of boxing, blood and brotherhood ripples with meanings and possibilities...In a country where language is profoundly, and knottily, connected to race and power, it is also a bulwark, and an escape...Full of grace and tenderness, 
The Distance is a searing tale of loss and learning as well as a beautiful evocation of brotherhood during a time of discord." — New Welsh Review

"Boxing is just one example of the kinds of opposing forces that Vladislavić explores with wit and sensitivity in this book: fact versus fiction, boyhood versus adulthood, masculinity versus machismo, apartheid versus freedom, and, most potently, brother versus brother."
 -- Mark Athitakis, On the Seawall

"A beautifully, thoughtfully crafted novel ... [
The Distance] seeks to engage the reader -- subtly, but in astonishingly many different ways, on questions about everything from race to how one can present narratives, from capturing a boxing match to attempts at autobiography to the films Branko's son is experimenting with. Vladislavić again shows himself to be an exceptional writer -- and this, as perhaps his most readily accessible work (though in fact it is many layers deep), is a good introduction to his work." — The Complete Review

"Violence meets quiet, action edges toward observation, and personality gives way to place. But where 
The Distance, like Portrait with Keys before it, asks that the reader build links across and between planes of memory, history, and city, the virtual world with which the book’s past collides is discomfitingly edgeless. Vladislavic is an auteur of this moment of collision. Always hovering just askew of the city he loves, his is a voice for making new spaces within it." — Africa is a Country

"One of South Africa's most finely tuned observers." - 
Ted Hodgkinson, Times Literary Supplement

"The writing has a quality of unpredicitability, a wildness that seeps through the fabric of Vladislavic's peerless linguistic control. Ivan Vladislavic is one of the most significant writers working in English today. Everyone should read him. " 
- Katie Kitamura, BOMB

"The Distance is a moving, sharply observed novel confronting questions of race, memory and forgetting, underlain by the necessity and difficulty of wrestling the past into story." - Cameron Woodhead, Sydney Morning Herald


Ivan’s sentences are like no one else’s; how does he manage to do it? They rise in the air like balloons and never seem to come down. One reads them looking up.
— Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Ivan Vladislavić occupies a place all of his own in the South African literary landscape: a versatile stylist and formal innovator whose work is nevertheless firmly rooted in contemporary urban life.
— J.M. Coetzee

Ivan Vladislavić manages to mine southern African ore for the universal gem, delivering it in magical, lapidary prose. He fulfills every writer’s hope, as W.H. Auden put it, "to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere."
— Peter Godwin

About the Author

Ivan Vladislavic is a novelist, essayist, and editor. He lives in Johannesburg where he is a Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand. His books include The FollyThe Restless SupermarketPortrait with Keys, and Double Negative. Among his recent publications are Flashback Hotel, a compendium of early stories, and The Loss Library. His work has won several prizes, including the University of Johannesburg Prize, the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and the Alon Paton Award for non-fiction. In 2015, He was awarded Yale University's Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction.