From a hilltop overlooking Johannesburg, Neville Lister and his photographer companion pick three rooftops at random and decide to pay the occupants a visit. What they find behind the closed doors is a microcosm of what lies in the city beyond: grinding poverty, racial divides and social inequality. Yet they also witness moments of powerful beauty and redemptive love in which characters are shown muddling through the harrowing realties of life on either side of the divide. The novel portrays a city in upheaval: a place battling to come to terms with itself in which both black and white people struggle to position themselves in a new society.
Vladislavić began the novel as a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, and it is apparent that the author has an intrinsic understanding of the artistry of photography; indeed, it is in his descriptions of the technical process that his writing is at its most poignant: "the shutter fell through the moment like a guillotine. You can see the relief on Mrs Ditton's face as she drops from the fullness of life into a smaller, diminished immortality." [Rosie Hoegood]