Cracks by Sheila Kohler

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A Talk with Sheila Kohler, author of Cracks and One Girl

Zoland: In Cracks there is a character called Sheila Kohler. Is she really you? Why would you choose to name a character after yourself, particularly in such a dark book?

SK: Although I use a character called Sheila Kohler, I don't think Cracks is any more autobiographical than my other books. It is simply a device to make the reader believe that what one's writing is all true - to blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. As readers today, we seem to want to move closer to confession in some way - hence the popularity of memoir. Of course, the place, and parts of the characters, are real, but the plot or story is invented. In other words, as much truth as possible is used in order to tell a lie. Or, if you like, as many lies as possible are used to tell the truth.

Zoland: You grew up in South Africa. So much of your work seems to address the peculiar colonial politics there, though always in a particularly subtle way. How did it influence you and your writing?

SK: Growing up in South Africa was a strange experience. It was like growing up in the middle ages, or anyway the nineteenth century. The education we received in a girl's boarding school in the middle of the veld, was much like the one I describe in Cracks. We read nineteenth century literature exclusively, and our history lessons stopped before the first world war, which was considered too recent to be taught. Much of our time was devoted to doing sport to combat sexual urges, I presume, or anyway to teach us team spirit. Also, we were always going to chapel, learning to turn the other cheek. Consequently, life, when I was obliged to face it, came to me as an amazing revelation - and not always one with which I knew how to cope.

The school itself was a sort of microcosm of South African society - the laager mentality, and it had an enormous impact on my life and work even though I left South Africa when I turned seventeen. However, the political realities of the country were not really something I knew about in sufficient detail to write about as such. All I knew when I matriculated was that would either have to lea

 

About Sheila Kohler

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Sheila KohlerSheila Kohler is the author of six previous novels, including Crossways, The Perfect Place, Cracks, and Children of Pithiviers (all available in Other Press editions). A native of South Africa, she makes her home in New York City and teaches at Bennington College in Vermont.
 
Published September 1, 2000 by Zoland Books. 176 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Gay & Lesbian, Crime. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Cracks

Kirkus Reviews

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A school reunion brings back a lot more than happy memories of adolescence, in Kohler’s (The House on R Street, 1994, etc.) eerie, elliptical masterpiece set in a South African boarding school in the early 1960s.

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Publishers Weekly

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A group of South African women who were all members of a boarding-school swimming team revisit a shared and haunted past in Kohler's polished, compact and chilling third novel.

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Book Reporter

Without mothers to sing them to sleep, stroke their feverish faces, soothe their tremulous tears, these girls turn to the only woman they can find --- not the withered headmistress or the embittered biology teacher --- but the most female, the most headstrong, courageous, outrageous, beautiful wo...

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ForeWord Reviews

The author, however, also includes herself as one of the characters, written about in the third person: “No one says anything, but we all look at Sheila and remember how she used to make up long stories in the dark of the dormitory.” Since people don’t normally speak about themselves in the third...

Aug 16 1999 | Read Full Review of Cracks

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