You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town
You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town is among the only works of fiction to explore the experience of “Coloured” citizens in apartheid-era South Africa, whose mixed heritage traps them, as Bharati Mukherjee wrote in the New York Times, “in the racial crucible of their country." Frieda Shenton, the daughter of Coloured parents in rural South Africa, is taught as a child to emulate whites: she is encouraged to learn correct English, to straighten her hair, and to do more than, as her father says, “peg out the madam’s washing.”
While still a self-conscious and overweight adolescent, Frieda is sent away from home to be among the first to integrate a prestigious Anglican high school in Cape Town, and finds herself in a city where racial lines are so strictly drawn that it is not possible to step out of one’s place. Facing painful isolation as a Coloured student and as a girl who knows she is “not the kind of girl whom boys look at,” she realizes that even the education her parents yearned for will not bring her freedom or a secure sense of identity in her tormented country.
At last, Frieda flees to England, only to return more than a decade later to a South Africa now in violent rebellion against apartheid—but still, seemingly, without a place for her. It is only as Frieda finds the courage to tell her “terrible stories” that she at last begins to create her own place in a world where she has always felt herself an exile.
"[Wicomb’s] prose is vigorous, textured, lyrical. . . . [She] is a sophisticated storyteller."
"Seductive, brilliant, and precious . . . An extraordinary writer."
"Wicomb deserves a wide American audience, on par with the fabulous reception her white countrymen Nadie Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee have received. She has a bleak but wise perspective on people and on the South African world."
"Wicomb is a gifted writer, and her compressed narratives work like brilliant splinters in the mind, suggesting a rich rhythm and shape."
"A moving and perceptive exploration of pain, change, and selfhood."