Book Review – Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir


by Sheila Kohler (Penguin Books) ISBN: 978178211 998 2

This memoir is one of the most moving and disturbing books I’ve read this year. Sheila Kohler delves into her life growing up with her sister in the Johannesburg of the 1950s. She refers to it as a time of “suffocating gentility”, when appearances mattered, and many important things were left unsaid.

She goes to live overseas, but when her sister dies in what looks like a deliberate accident, an act of violence committed by her husband, Sheila returns to South Africa with so many questions. And somewhere in between childhood nostalgia and the sadness of the years that follow, she questions the life they led during the height of Apartheid – another thing that was never discussed with the children.

Her final questions remain unanswered. Why did they not protect Maxine, when they knew of her husband’s violent nature? Was it the misogynistic and racist society they grew up in, or their mother’s excessive drinking, or simply fate that made a difference? I read this book during a week of outrage and sadness that brought about the hashtag #menaretrash. It’s been happening for the longest time.

Judy Ward
4/5

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