Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Once We Were Sisters is a heart-breaking memoir by South African author (Becoming Jane Eyre) Sheila Kohler.  Sheila's sister Maxine. married to a noted South African heart surgeon who abused her and their 6 children, died at 39 when her husband drove their car into a lamppost. Kohler spent 35 years haunted by questions related to Maxine's death and her own failure to act despite her knowledge of the abuse, and she has tried to find closure for her sister's untimely death in her many works of fiction.  Finally, in this haunting memoir, she deals with the family, sexism, misogyny and other societal factors that led to this tragedy as she explores the bond between two sisters that changed, but never broke, even after Maxine's death.  Penguin

— From Staff Reviews



"A searing and intimate memoir about love turned deadly." --The BBC

"An intimate illumination of sisterhood and loss." --People

When Sheila Kohler was thirty-seven, she received the heart-stopping news that her sister Maxine, only two years older, was killed when her husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg. Stunned by the news, she immediately flew back to the country where she was born, determined to find answers and forced to reckon with his history of violence and the lingering effects of their most unusual childhood--one marked by death and the misguided love of their mother.

In her signature spare and incisive prose, Sheila Kohler recounts the lives she and her sister led. Flashing back to their storybook childhood at the family estate, Crossways, Kohler tells of the death of her father when she and Maxine were girls, which led to the family abandoning their house and the girls being raised by their mother, at turns distant and suffocating. We follow them to the cloistered Anglican boarding school where they first learn of separation and later their studies in Rome and Paris where they plan grand lives for themselves--lives that are interrupted when both marry young and discover they have made poor choices. Kohler evokes the bond between sisters and shows how that bond changes but never breaks, even after death.

"A beautiful and disturbing memoir of a beloved sister who died at the age of thirty-nine in circumstances that strongly suggest murder. . . . Highly recommended." --Joyce Carol Oates

About the Author

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.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780143129295
ISBN-10: 0143129295
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 17th, 2017
Pages: 256
Language: English