Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She later lived in Paris for fifteen years, where she married and completed her undergraduate degree in literature at the Sorbonne and a graduate degree in psychology at the Institut Catholique. She moved to the United States in 1981 and earned an MFA in writing at Columbia University. She is the author of fourteen works of fiction, including the novels Cracks, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Dreaming For Freud, three short story collections, and her memoir Once We Were Sisters. She has won two O. Henry Prizes, an Open Fiction Award, a WILLA Literary Award, and a Smart Family Foundation prize. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City. 

 

News

Sheila Kohler News

Praise for Sheila Kohler's memoir Once We Were Sisters

β€œA searing and intimate memoir about love turned deadly.” The BBC

β€œAn intimate illumination of sisterhood and loss.” People

"Sheila Kohler memoir is first and foremost a deeply personal account of a sibling bond, the events that led up her sister's death, and the repercussions of that loss." Lucy Scholes, The National

"Exquisitely written . . . In spare, delicate prose, Kohler brings a seasoned novelist's skills to this deeply moving, compelling memoir." Kirkus (starred review)

Books

Bluebird or The Invention of Happiness

Bluebird or The Invention of Happiness

is a radiant and artful novel based on the life of Lucy Dillon, an 18th-century French aristocrat.  Her intelligence, beauty, and lack of pretension made Lucy a favorite of luminairies like Talleyrand and Germaine de Stael--and equipped her to survive the "Terror" that swept France in the wake of the Revolution.  Possessed of considerable wit and practicality, Lucy manages to keep her beloved husband and small children safe while all her former circle, including King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, are guillotined. 

Eventually securing passage on a small ship bound for Boston, Lucy and her family settle in the Hudson Valley near Albany.  Exhilirated by the personal and political freedom she finds in America, Lucy views her time there not as "exile," but rather as "opportunity"--and the former palace darling proudly turns dairymaid, establishing a successful farm and embracing all the challenges and adventures the New World presents her.

(Penguin, March 2008)




Cracks

Cracks

In Sheila Kohler’s brilliant 1999 novel (now reissued in paperback), a beautiful schoolgirl mysteriously disappears into the South African veld. Forty years later, thirteen members of the missing girl’s swimming team gather at their old boarding school for a reunion, and look back to the long, dry weeks leading to Fiamma’s disappearance. As teenage memories and emotions resurface, the women relive the horror of a long-buried secret. A stunning and singular tale of the passion and tribalism of adolescence, Cracks lays bare the violence that lurks in the heart of even the most innocent.

(Other Press, June 2006)




Becoming Jane Eyre

Becoming Jane Eyre

The year is 1846.  In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster.  A mother and two children dead.  A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members.  A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates.  And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate.  Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent.

So unfolds the story of the Bronte sisters.  At its center are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre.  Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction's most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler's Becoming Jane Eyre will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre

(Viking/Penguin, December 2009)




Love Child

Love Child

The compelling story of a forbidden marriage, a baby lost, and a love triangle gone horribly wrong, Love Child centers on Bill, a South African woman whose life has been defined by the apartheid-era, class-riven society in which she lives. Under pressure to make her will, Bill is forced to think about the momentous events and decisions that have made her an extremely wealthy if somewhat disillusioned woman. To whom should she leave her fortune? As Bill relives her past, we learn that this is a simple question with a complicated answer. In elegant, sensual, and nuanced prose, Kohler skillfully explores the space between our dreams and our reality, between our hopes and our disappointments.

(Penguin, July 2011)




The Bay of Foxes

The Bay of Foxes

In 1978, Dawit, a young, beautiful, and educated Ethiopian refugee, roams the streets of Paris. By chance, he spots the famous French author M., who at sixty is at the height of her fame. Seduced by Dawit's grace and his moving story, M. invites him to live with her. He makes himself indispensable, or so he thinks. When M. brings him up to her Sardinian villa, beside the Bay of Foxes, Dawit finds love and temptation - and perfects the art of deception.

(Penguin, June 2012)




Dreaming For Freud

Dreaming For Freud

Inspired by Sigmund Freud's "Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria," Dreaming for Freud paints a provocative and sensual portrait of one of history's most famous patients.

In the fall of 1900, Dora's father forces her to begin treatment with the doctor. Visiting him daily, the seventeen-year-old girl lies on his ottoman and tells him frankly about her strange life, and above all about her father's desires as far as she is concerned. But Dora abruptly ends her treatment after only eleven weeks, just as Freud was convinced he was on the cusp of a major discovery. In Dreaming for Freud, Kohler explores what might have happened between the man who changed the face of psychotherapy and the beautiful young woman who gave him her dreams.

(Penguin, May 2014)




Once We Were Sisters

Once We Were Sisters

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.
 
(Penguin, January 2017)