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4.3 6
by Sheila Kohler

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Now a major motion picture starring Eva Green and directed by Jordan Scott

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


Now a major motion picture starring Eva Green and directed by Jordan Scott

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Erotic and disturbing.” –Vanity Fair

"Riveting . . . while evocative of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Kohler's writing is so smoothly confident and erotic that she has produced a tale resonant with a chilling power all its own.” –Elle

“Shocking, reminiscent of Lord of the Flies . . . conjures up the wildness of the veld and the passion and drama of adolescence . . . peculiarly satisfying.” –Times Literary Supplement

"A disturbing note-perfect novel. Dissection of evil has rarely been so extravagantly executed.” –San Francisco Chronicle

"An eerie, elliptical masterpiece." –Kirkus Reviews

smoothly confident and erotic…a tale resonant with a chilling power all its own.
San Francisco Chronicle
...in every way a small masterpiece.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 companionship--and 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. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
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) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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. School reunions inevitably dredge up much that might be better left decently buried, but they are an irresistible rite of passage, especially if you spent your school years not merely studying with your classmates but living with them as well. When a dozen girls in South Africa receive an urgent summons from their old headmistress to return to the Transvaal school they left years ago, they arrive dutifully and with some foreboding—only to learn that developers want to tear the place down and subdivide the grounds for new housing. Somehow this comes as a relief to most of them, although they're too polite to say as much out loud. All of the 12 were close friends brought together on the swimming team, but there's one face missing: Fiamma, the Italian girl who disappeared mysteriously during a hiking trip at the end of term and was never heard from again. Gradually, we're given flashbacks that portray the strange aura of Fiamma, the daughter of an Italian prince and the most beautiful and exotic creature any of the other girls—or their teachers—had ever seen. As we get more familiar with each of the 12—intellectual Ann, bohemian Fuzzie, athletic Di, woebegone Meg—it becomes clear that their resentment of Fiamma went far beyond the usual teenage intolerance for the foreign and unusual: it amounted to a kind of personal vendetta against someone who represented everything they feared (and hoped) they might become. The mystery is unfolded slowly butcredibly, and its ending manages both to surprise and satisfy. First-rate psychological suspense, in the tradition of The Children's Hour, played out flawlessly and well by a real master of narrative.

Product Details

Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
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5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.49(d)

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Read an Excerpt

   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. We managed to move the heavy marble slab aside enough to gaze down through the crack at the illustrious bones that lay there, white as shells

Meet the Author

Sheila Kohler

Sheila 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.

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Cracks 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Justine42 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, but I felt like it was written too short and that some of the chapters were 'hurried'. The author could have taken more pages to tell the story. Still highly reccomened though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book will suck you in and make you feel like you are apart of the story, rather then reading about it. It is a short book, but will surely captivate the right reader. I would recommend this book to someone looking for a grand coming of age story, told in a mature tone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novel is a very quick read-finished it in a day but the ending will linger with you. The writing style brings to life the images but there is little character attachment....perhaps from the detached method of describing the scenes as they happen. Would recommend.