Cover image for Cracks
Kohler, Sheila.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Zoland Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
165 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A stunning tale of the passion and tribalism of adolescence, "Cracks"--set in a South African boarding school for girls in the 1960s--is reminiscent of "Lord of the Flies" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock."

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Summoned by their old headmistress after developers threaten the school's grounds, 12 middle-aged women return to the rural South African terrain of their childhoods. They were the last to see the team's star, Fiamma, just before she disappeared forever into the barren Transvaal veldt around the school. Kohler's short chapters alternate scenes from the reunion with flashbacks to their youthful companionshipÄand rivalry. The group includes Di Radfield, the team captain; the bookish Ann Lindt; Sheila Kohler, an American (who shares the author's name and her vocation); pretty Meg Donovan; and others only briefly seen. Their swimming coach, Miss G, guides the students closely and manipulatively, showing an interest that borders on the sexual. When Fiamma Coronna, an Italian girl who claims royal lineage, joins the team, Miss G exalts her over the rest of the swimmers, creating at first competition, then resentment, along with sexual jealousy. Kohler (The House on R Street) narrates the story in the first-person plural: "We always had cramps in our toes. Our hair was always wet. Our hands were always damp and cold and our fingers crinkled." The curt "we" and Kohler's clipped, effective descriptions generate an abiding sense of myth, collective experience and collective guilt. At the same time, these tactics prevent readers from growing attached to any one individual, asking us to focus instead on the novel's rich mood. The result is a narrative at once powerful and hollow, an extremely well-made technical experiment. Finding at last how and why Fiamma vanished, some readers will feel the experiment justified; others may feel she was never really there. (Sept.) FYI: Parts of the novel have appeared in the Paris Review. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When a group of middle-aged women reunite at a boarding school deep in South Africa, their minds are on one girl no longer with them--Fiamma, the haughty outsider. Clearly, something horrible happened to Fiamma implicating these women, and in prose at once hard-edged and lyrical, South African--born Kohler teases out the solution to this mystery. The book's brevity belies its extraordinary power. (LJ 11/1/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



 The white sky meets the flatness of the plain, pressing down heavily all around. In front of the school nothing moves except the shimmer of heat. It is all distance: flat land, sky, and the slight trace of the river that runs slow and dun beside the graves toward the low, blue hills.     Looking out, so many  years later, from the red-roofed buildings of our Dutch-gabled school across terraced lawns and veld toward the river and the wattle trees, we can no longer see the graves, but we can still hear the hum of the mosquitoes that swarm along the banks of the stagnant water. We can still smell the thick smoke of Miss G's cigarette. In our minds' eye we see Fiamma lying on the gray marble grave beneath the frangipani trees. Her slender hands are crossed on her chest, and the white irises that grow wild along the banks of the river cover her body like candles. A faint breeze stirs the hem of her earth-colored tunic. She seems asleep.     We stand on the veranda, clutching the parapet as if it is the railing of a tossing ship, and gaze at the faint trace of the river, beside which lie the graves of Sir George Harrow and his faithful bullterrier, Jock.     Our school, which was renowned for neither academic excellence nor illustrious alumnae, had once belonged to Sir George, a high commissioner and hero of the Boer War. He distinguished himself at Ladysmith and Kimberley. Even his bullterrier, Jock, was famous for bravery and fidelity. According to legend, he ran a great distance and traversed many dangers in the war-torn veld to summon help for his wounded master. The little lozenge of his grave lies beside Sir George's.     The area around the graves was always out-of-bounds, but we ran there to escape the other girls and pick the purple and white irises, which grew wild by the river. There was a picnic hut with a red, beaten-clay floor and two latrines, which gave off an unholy odor. Vagrants sometimes sheltered there, and we would find their striped blankets and tin mugs under the benches. We would lie in the shade of the frangipanis on Sir George's cool, gray marble grave and cover our bodies with the wild irises and fold our hands on our chests and play dead. Excerpted from Cracks by Sheila Kohler All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.