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Once We Were Sisters : A Memoir
by Sheila Kohler


Overview - ONE OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE'S BEST NEW BOOKS
"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.
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More About Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler
 
 
 
Overview
ONE OF PEOPLE MAGAZINE'S BEST NEW BOOKS
"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

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780143129295
  • ISBN-10: 0143129295
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publish Date: January 2017
  • Page Count: 256


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Women
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Cultural Heritage

 
BookPage Reviews

A heartwrenching look at sisterhood

At first glance, life seems idyllic for golden-haired sisters Sheila and Maxine, daughters of privilege growing up in the 1940s and ’50s on a large estate near Johannesburg, South Africa. As Sheila Kohler notes in Once We Were Sisters, their family homestead was complete with “an army of servants,” swimming pool, tennis court and nine-hole golf course. While leaning on each other for love, laughter and support, the sisters studied in France, went to finishing school in Italy, married, bought homes in several countries and had children.

Sheila’s world was shattered in 1979 when Maxine, mother of six children, was killed in a car accident at age 39. Maxine’s husband Carl, a protégé of famed heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard, had driven their car off a deserted road and into a lamppost. Kohler believes the act was murder.

Maxine had confessed repeatedly that her husband beat her “Black-and-blue!” and during a visit in Sardinia, admitted that she was afraid to go home. To her eternal regret, Sheila advised her sister to return to her children.

Maxine’s death propelled Sheila into a life of writing: an MFA at Columbia followed by award-winning short stories, nine novels and her riveting new memoir.

“In story after story,” Kohler writes, “I conjure up my sister in various disguises, as well as other figures from our past. Her bright image leads me onward like a candle in the night. Again and again in various forms and shapes I write her story, colored by my own feelings of love and guilt.”

Kohler is a thoughtful, lyrical writer who shares memories of her colorful life in artfully arranged chapters that intersperse past and present in careful layers, exploring myriad family secrets hidden beneath a gilded, guarded exterior. Her soul-searching memoir remains skillfully lean while evoking lush images of life with her beloved sister. Throughout the narrative, Kohler ponders her sister’s fate, asking tough questions and concluding, “I am still looking for the answers.”

 

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews