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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293

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You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town is a book of short stories written by South African author Zoë Wicomb. The stories are partially autobiographical and interrelated. The book was published in 1987, during a period in South Africa when the anti-apartheid movement became more militant.

The stories have a common theme: the experiences of a "colored" woman in South Africa during the apartheid era. Before You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town was published, there were very few literary works that articulated the experiences and perspectives of a woman of color in the country.

While the book wasn't intended to be radical, the publication of the book set the precedent for future feminist literature in South Africa. It was also one of the earliest works of fiction to provide commentary on the political climate at the time, particularly, from the point of view of a woman of color.

The stories as a whole can be considered post-colonial literature, even though apartheid did not officially end until a few years after the book was published. The stories feature recurring themes of oppression, identity politics (both as a woman and as a black South African), critiques on colonialism, and cultural differences between the majority black South Africans and the minority whites in power.

You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town can be read as a journalistic piece of literature because it documented the culture, socioeconomics, and politics of the time in Cape Town, in particular, and South Africa as a whole.

The character in the book is a university educated, English-speaking woman of color, which made her an outsider to both white and black South Africans. However, this outsider point of view allowed her to gain perspectives that were outside the scope of either group.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

The first-person narrative point of view of “You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town” creates a powerful effect on the reader. The narration is highly sensual, beginning with the touch of the cardboard lining in the narrator’s cheap handbag and continuing with the sight of the women on the bus, the flutter of the fetus in the womb, the pain of the abortion, and the morning after when she smoothes back the wet black hair of the fetus before depositing the newspaper-wrapped bundle in the garbage. All of this makes the internal viewpoint highly visual and visceral rather than intellectual. The dialogue between the two women on the bus, which dominates the central section of the story, is related as heard, without editorial comment from the narrator, although she does, in the style of stream of consciousness, at times relate the external events with her own internal symbolism and the reader sees more clearly what is driving her.

Cape Town itself plays a minor role in the story, as details of it are relayed while the narrator moves through it to her date with the abortionist. The imagery of the surroundings, the mountains and the ocean, as well as the remembrances of the veld of the narrator’s childhood, play off the images of the city, the buildings, shops, roads, and trains: the fertile veld and the city of dustbins, where God has left but the trains run on time.

Interestingly, the tone is on the whole detached. It becomes clear that throughout the story the narrator is trying to detach herself from her decision and its consequences. Therefore, the focus is on the detail and sense impressions, making the story so powerful and concrete that the reader experiences the narrator’s internal agony, although it is never referred to directly.

There is a contrast between the proper English, the highly proper quality of the language of the narrator’s thoughts and the dialect she hears from the women on the bus. It is clear that there is a large gap between them; however, the women feel comfortable criticizing the narrator when she almost forgets her purse but would never criticize their white employers to their faces. This incident with the purse is metaphoric—it represents the narrator’s unacknowledged reluctance to go through with her decision, while at the same time being related to the analogy to the betrayal of Christ by Judas.