You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town

by Zoë Wicomb

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 231

The novel You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town follows a black character named Frieda who was born in South Africa. The book reads a bit like a novel, but it’s actually a series of short stories in terms of format.

The short stories start out with Frieda being a teenager in South Africa, where she is raised by her parents to copy the mannerisms of white people. In particular, they revere Englishmen. There’s a passage where Frieda’s mother calls an Englishmen “a gentleman,” for example.

Some of the things Frieda is encouraged to do in the stories include losing some of her native Afrikaans accent in order to speak "proper" English and changing her hair so that it is straighter and more like the hair of white people.

The overall story follows Frieda’s journey as she learns that “getting lost” in the country is impossible, because the segregation of Apartheid enforces where she can and can’t go and what she can and can’t do.

Eventually, Frieda escapes to England. Ten years later, Frieda goes back to visit South Africa during the resistance against Apartheid, but she still feels out of place there. This book is semi-autobiographical to the author, Zoe Wicomb. The publishing of the book itself is how both Frieda and Zoe are able to feel like she belongs in the world.

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