FLASH­BACK HO­TEL

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Fantasy -

Ivan Vladislavic, Ar­chi­pel­ago Books (MARCH) Soft­cover $18 (280pp), 978-1-939810-11-3, SHORT STO­RIES

The past is the present is the fu­ture in Flash­back Ho­tel, the mas­ter­ful new short story col­lec­tion by Ivan Vladislavic. Al­ter­nately whim­si­cal and deeply af­fect­ing, the col­lec­tion ex­plores South African cul­ture and the im­pact of be­lief on the daily lives of or­di­nary peo­ple.

Vladislavic writes with deadly play­ful­ness. In his imag­i­nary Jo­han­nes­burg, noth­ing is what it seems. Each story in Flash­back Ho­tel peels back the lay­ers of re­al­ity, re­veal­ing the mag­i­cal world be­neath what’s im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. A child feeds the hole in the back­yard, sleeps un­der a blan­ket of meat. A bomber waits in the city ho­tel he’s ex­ploded: bro­ken pipes, pieces of pi­ano, and dead wait­ers are col­lected and cov­ered in ce­ment.

This is a bleak, dan­ger­ous world, where po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion can trans­form the or­di­nary into a sur­real night­mare in a sin­gle mo­ment. How­ever, it’s not all fright­en­ing. Flash­back Ho­tel has a rare beauty, with del­i­cately drawn im­ages that off­set its apoc­a­lyp­tic scenes. For ex­am­ple, a linen suit is “fresh cream with a dab of but­ter in it, richly tex­tured, the pock­ets cool as arum lilies.”

Apartheid, racism, and po­lit­i­cal un­rest are fre­quent themes in Flash­back Ho­tel. The col­lec­tion’s char­ac­ters grap­ple with apartheid in dif­fer­ent ways: no mat­ter what they do, it’s as im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore as the gi­ant stone head of Lenin that ap­pears on a pedestal at the end of Bulkin Street. The col­lec­tion plays with South Africa’s legacy of race vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing fre­quent ref­er­ences to seg­re­ga­tion, dis­en­fran­chise­ment, and glo­ri­fy­ing racist lead­ers. Flash­back Ho­tel is a satir­i­cal look at the “good old days” of South Africa. It asks the ques­tion, “Good for whom?”

Weav­ing ele­gant de­scrip­tion and deeply dis­turb­ing im­agery, Flash­back Ho­tel is a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of short sto­ries that de­stroy the bar­ri­ers be­tween re­al­ity and fan­tasy, ex­pos­ing the struts and bones be­neath each sub­ur­ban street.

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