The Woman Who Gave Birth To Her Mother 


Sex and Other Sacred Games is an imaginative look at sexuality, in which a chance encounter in a Paris cafe sets off a parley, a heated discussion, an on-going dialogue, between a feminist and a femme fatale. While following the development of their relationship, the book explores all facets of passion, eroticism, and pleasure. Together, they consider the possibility of women redefining desire. The book consistently raises essential issues regarding our traditional views of sex. The two women challenge us to reconsider the meaning and making of love. They invite us to the sacred game, where sexual identity, pleasure and desire can all be re-discovered or invented from scratch.

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“Sex and Other Sacred Games explores that territory where Lesbian Desire tends to come most violently undone; in the heart and bowels of a love relationship. Essentially, the book is an extended conversation between two women on the subject of sex. In the course of the conversation, which is laced with echoes of Platonic dialogue, the women fall in love. What makes this dialogue both highly charged and evocative of a whole chapter of feminist history is that one of the women, Alma Runau, is a Lesbian Feminist and the other, Claire Heller, is a self-declared (heterosexual) femme fatale.”

– Trivia: A Journal of Ideas, 1991

“In Sex and Other Sacred Games, Kim Chernin and Renate Stendhal each take on a fictional character, Claire Heller an American, and Alma Runau a European, to write a book about two women who meet, separate, correspond, and meet again in an on-going, unresolved conversation about sexual roles, an attempt to redefine female sexuality. A play on Plato’s dialogues, their discourse takes place on many levels, moving among mythological, psychoanalytic, and feminist points of view. Writing alternating chapters, they attempt to bridge the geographic space and the cultural difference of their characters by allowing the censored thoughts to emerge.”

– Resurgent: New Writing by Women

“The book is set in Paris, the south of France and Berkeley. The heroines are a German and an American writer, two vagabonds who are unwilling to accept any of the roles offered by society or to adapt to the rules of their time. They meet in a Paris cafe, in a race for the only remaining table that offers enough room to write. In order to defend this table, that is meant for four, but is suitable for a single person who wants to be alone in the crowd with her writing utensils, the two rivals unite as consumers and communicators, as expected in a cafe house culture…

Through the diaries and letters [eventually exchanged by] the two women a cultural history of female sexuality is being shaped, while at the same time female sexuality is said not to exist. By evoking the space women have always claimed in Patriarchy, Claire Heller can demonstrate an exciting, rich and continuous female tradition. Alma Runau rejects this sort of women’s history as not inherently female… Alma Runau, a feminist artist, at the end of the 20th Century is a woman without history; she has grown up in Germany, fled to Paris…and distanced herself, with German thoroughness, from Patriarchy. Now she meets Claire Heller with her painted face and red finger nails, two and a half years later receives Claire’s package of letters and soon afterwards finds Claire in the South of France at her doorstep without makeup, short haired, looking like a pretty boy–an adventurer who hides her true being behind costumes and masks, a story-teller, who sets unsolvable riddles. It becomes clear that Claire’s…sexual power, is not pleasure in sensuality, nor in her own experience, but is joy in the execution of power. ‘If women are so afraid of men’s power, what the hell could a woman learn about sex by going to bed with a woman,’ asks Claire? For the ardent feminist Alma, however, any kind of aggression and exercise of power is condemnable. The confrontations in this book are so palpable, clear, so exciting, annoying and creative that one wishes for an immediate translation into German in order to start an urgently needed discussion.”

– Liesebuch, April 1991

“A superb dissection of current feminism

Chernin and Stendhal have crafted a wonderful, dualistic examination of the current trends of feminism in this novel. Each author wrote the chapters that are from her character’s point of view, offering conflicting and interwoven styles of globa feminist thought. Using tools such as mythic references and dream sequences, dialogue and letter formats, and clashes between cultures, Chernin and Stendhal work through the often disparate and incompatible notions of feminism that exist throughout the world. A must-read for anyone searching for a new definition of feminist mores.

– A reader, from, March 27, 1997

“Evocative…As different as Alma and Claire are…both face the ways they sexually trap themselves, lose their way, repeat patterns, burn out. And both are ready for the next step, a new sacred game…it is refreshing to find a book devoted entirely to a friendship (and more) between women.”

– The Women’s Review of Books

“This collaboration demonstrates that communication between women of diverse sexual preferences, practices, and politics may lead to great mutual understanding and empowerment.”

– Library Journal