Once We Were Sisters

Sheila Kohler

To the voiceless, the muffled, the frightened, the guilty, I attempt to give words
Once We Were Sisters (Hardback ISBN 9781782119975) cover artwork

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A powerful and heartbreaking portrait of the bond between two sisters, in life and beyond death

Once We Were Sisters is the story of Maxine and Sheila Kohler. Growing up in the suffocating gentility of 1950s South Africa, the girls plan grand lives for themselves that will bring them out of the long shadow cast by their father’s death and their overbearing mother’s bullying.

Maxine is just shy of her fortieth birthday when her husband, a brilliant and respected surgeon, drives their car off the road and kills her. Devastated, Sheila returns to South Africa, determined to find answers to her sister’s sudden death at the hands of her husband.

More haunting, however, are the questions. How had she failed to protect her sister? Was Maxine’s murder a matter of accident, or destiny? What lies in the soil of their troubled motherland that condemns its women to such violence?

Powerful, moving and tragic, Once We Were Sisters is an act of love, an extraordinary account of an unspeakable loss.

“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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“An extraordinary memoir of loss … tender and powerful”

“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

“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”
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