I had the pleasure of hearing Vladislavić read at the Cape Town launch of the book; each word considered, every sentence as perfect as you can get them.
Flashback Hotel takes you on a visual journey through Hillbrow, telling the stories of everyday people and their everyday activities. Only it's not ordinary in any way. The stories are set in our reality, and most recall moments in South Africa's tempestuous past, yet they are surreal, almost unbelievably so. Like Autopsy, which depicts a man who spots Elvis Presley browsing through titles at a second-hand bookshop. The story is set after the end of apartheid, but slips into the arena of the bizarre, as the protagonist follows the legendary king of rock n roll through Hillbrow.
My personal favourite from the collection is the opening story, The Prime Minister is Dead. It follows a young boy and his father as they abandon their yard work to see off the country's late leader. This is a snapshot of life as it was during the apartheid years, visibly portraying a day in the life of a typical Afrikaner family. But Vladislavić does not leave it there, transforming the scene into something almost absurd. It's an effortless transition, and a wonderful journey.
Also profoundly beautiful was The Book Lover, which tells the story of two avid readers, who are linked through the second-hand books that pass through their life. The writing draws you in, keeps you enthralled and finally releases you, reeling from the sting in the tail. Flashback Hotel marks the welcome return of these two collections and is an essential addition to any library.
Flashback Hotel by Ivan Vladislavić (Umuzi, 2010)