In this formally inventive, fragmented novel, Vladislaviâc evokes the beauty, and the strangeness, of remembering and forgetting, and explores what it means to be at odds with one's surroundings in a portrait of two brothers and Muhammad Ali.
The novel is narrated in juxtaposed fragments by the brothers, the polyvocality resulting in — or producing, perhaps — a harmonizing tone for a fraternal relationship that isn’t always harmonious. The language is shared, even if their worldviews and memories are not, a fated sonic alignment not unlike the lyric sound that Ali developed in speech and body ... He is talking in the context of social norms, not memory, but the two are intertwined across Vladislavić’s novels and especially in The Distance where Muhammad Ali’s blackness shapes the politics of the two white brothers during Apartheid. Vladislavić’s characters confront their whiteness and its violence relentlessly and confusedly, across multiple contexts: in school, parenting, gentrification, and even in the architecture of their own homes ... Vladislavić, refreshingly, is not a sentimentalist. His interest in the potential of the fragment as a form of fiction that bears witness to political truth, is ever yielding.
South African novelist Vladislavić delivers a moving, closely observed study in family dynamics in a time of apartheid ... the distance of which Vladislavić writes comes in many forms: that of the immigrants from an apartheid society, that of families as the children grow up and move away, in Joe’s case to America, where he becomes a writer. Joe returns to South Africa but suffers a bad end, leaving it to Branko to reconstruct his brother’s life through those scrapbooks and complete the book Joe has been contracted to write about them ... A memorable, beautifully written story of love and loss.
A childhood obsession with Muhammad Ali informs the life of a South African writer in Vladislavic’s dazzling, deeply felt meditation on cultural identity and anxiety ... Vladislavic inserts actual newspaper cuttings into the narrative, which are cited and set in gray text, making this a remarkable ode to the written and spoken word, filled with fascinating and moving metaphysical interventions. The result is an extraordinary palimpsest of pulp reporting, cultural anthropology, and personal diary.