Once We Were Sisters

Sheila Kohler

To the voiceless, the muffled, the frightened, the guilty, I attempt to give words
Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler (Paperback ISBN 9781786890009) book cover

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A powerful and heartbreaking memoir of a childhood in South Africa, and a story of a bond between two sisters, in life and beyond death

This is the story of Maxine and Sheila Kohler, two sisters who grew up in the suffocating gentility of 1950s South Africa. When Maxine is just shy of her fortieth birthday her husband, a brilliant and respected surgeon, drives their car off the road and kills her.

Devastated, Sheila returns to the country of her birth, haunted by questions. How had she failed to protect her sister? Was Maxine’s death a matter of chance, or destiny? What lies in the soil of their troubled motherland that condemns its women to such violence?

“A powerful memoir from an acclaimed novelist reveals a past of privilege, violence and possibly murder … This many-layered memoir, rich in texture and suggestion, executed with a novelist’s eye for oblique human suffering, is her devastating reckoning with the past”

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“A powerful memoir of love, loss and the author’s failure to protect her beloved sister … the result is wonderful - spare, controlled and immensely resonant … a compact little gem”
sunday Times

“An extraordinary memoir of loss … tender and powerful”

“Engrossing and beautifully written”
sunday Express

“An elegant book, and a story that packs a mighty punch … A powerful meditation not only on loss and grief but also on complicity within a family and a country … Both horrifying and illuminating, and which lingers in the reader’s consciousness long after the final page has been turned”
Gillian Slovo
times Literary Supplement

Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of fourteen works of fiction including the novels Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre and Cracks, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and made into a film starring Eva Green. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and O Magazine and included in The Best American Short Stories. She has twice won an O’Henry Prize, as well as an Open Fiction Award, a Willa Cather Prize and a Smart Family Foundation Prize. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City. www.sheilakohler.com

Sheila Kohler reads from Once We Were Sisters