Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

by Elyse Schein, Paula Bernstein

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Overview

As seen in the hit documentary Three Identical Strangers • “[A] poignant memoir of twin sisters who were split up as infants, became part of a secret scientific study, then found each other as adults.”—Reader’s Digest (Editors’ Choice)

WINNER OF A BOOKS FOR A BETTER LIFE AWARD

Elyse Schein had always known she was adopted, but it wasn’t until her mid-thirties while living in Paris that she searched for her biological mother. What she found instead was shocking: She had an identical twin sister. What’s more, after being separated as infants, she and her sister had been, for a time, part of a secret study on separated twins.

Paula Bernstein, a married writer and mother living in New York, also knew she was adopted, but had no inclination to find her birth mother. When she answered a call from her adoption agency one spring afternoon, Paula’s life suddenly divided into two starkly different periods: the time before and the time after she learned the truth. 

As they reunite, taking their tentative first steps from strangers to sisters, Paula and Elyse are left with haunting questions surrounding their origins and their separation. And when they investigate their birth mother’s past, the sisters move closer toward solving the puzzle of their lives.

Praise for Identical Strangers

“Remarkable . . . powerful . . . [an] extraordinary experience . . . The reader is left to marvel at the reworking of individual identities required by one discovery and then another.”—Boston Sunday Globe

“Absorbing.”—Wired

“[A] fascinating memoir . . . Weaving studies about twin science into their personal reflections . . . Schein and Bernstein provide an intelligent exploration of how identity intersects with bloodlines. A must-read for anyone interested in what it means to be a family.”—Bust

Identical Strangers has all the heart-stopping drama you’d expect. But it has so much more—the authors’ emotional honesty and clear-eyed insights turn this unique story into a universal one. As you accompany the twins on their search for the truth of their birth, you witness another kind of birth—the germination and flowering of sisterly love.”—Deborah Tannen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of You Just Don’t Understand

“A transfixing memoir.”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588366443
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/02/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 148,737
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Elyse Schein is a writer and filmmaker. Her short films “I Steal Happiness” and “Private Dick” have been shown at the Telluride Film Festival and at cinemas in Prague and San Francisco. A graduate of Stony Brook University, she studied film at FAMU, Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts. She has also worked as an English teacher, photographer, and translator. Schein lives in Brooklyn.

Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, New York, The Village Voice, and Redbook, among other publications. Formerly a reporter at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Bernstein has also been a regular contributor to CNN. A graduate of Wellesley College, she has a master’s degree in cinema studies from New York University. Bernstein lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Identical Strangers A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited


By Elyse Schein Random House Trade Paperbacks Copyright © 2008 Elyse Schein
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812975659

IDENTICAL STRANGERS

from CHAPTER ONE

ELYSE:

My mother, my adoptive mother, my real mother, died when I was six, but throughout my childhood I believed she watched over me from above. I held the few images that remained of her in my mind like precious photographs I could animate at will. In one, she sat before her dressing table, lining her charcoal eyes, preparing to go out with my dad one Saturday night. The scent of her Chanel No. 5 is enchanting.

I can still see her. She catches a glimpse of me in the mirror and smiles at me, standing in the doorway in my pajamas. With her raven hair, she looks like Snow White. Then, after her death, she seemed to simply disappear, like a princess banished to some far-away kingdom. I believed that from that kingdom, she granted me magical powers.

When I jumped rope better than the other girls in my Long Island neighborhood, I knew it was because my mother was with me. When I went out fishing with my dad and brother, my mother helped me haul in the catch of the day. By sheer concentration, I could summon her force so that my frog won the neighborhood race.

Since I wasn’t allowed to attend my mother’s funeral, her death remained a mystery tome. When other kids asked how she had died, I confidently announced that she had had a backache. I later learned that her back problems had been caused by the cancer invading her spine.
Along with my mother’s absence came an awareness of my own presence. I remember standing in complete darkness in front of the bay windows in our house shortly after her death. Alone, except for my reflection, I became aware of my own being. As I pulled away from the glass, my image disappeared. I asked myself, Why am I me and not someone else?

Until autumn of 2002, I had never searched for my birth parents. I was proud to be my own invention, having created myself out of several cities and cultures. In my ignorance surrounding my mother’s death, I amplified the importance of the few facts I had accumulated—she was thirty-three when she died, which I somehow linked to our new home address at 33 Granada Circle. It was probably no coincidence that when I reached the age of thirty-three, after one year in Paris, the urge to know the truth of my origins grew stronger. Turning thirty-three felt the way other people described turning thirty. I felt that I should automatically transform into an adult.

I had recently starting wearing glasses to correct my severe case of astigmatism, which had allowed me to see the world in a beautiful blur for several years. All the minute details I had been oblivious to were suddenly focused and magnified. But even if it meant abandoning my own blissful vision of the world, I was ready to face the truth.

I was working in the unlikeliest of places, as a temporary receptionist in a French venture capital firm in the heart of Paris’s business district. Of course, the desire to eat something other than canned ratatouille for dinner had played a part. I assured myself that I wasn’t like the suburbanites who commuted every day in order to pay for a satellite dish and a yearly six-week vacation to the south of France.

Initially I had amused myself by observing French business decorum. As the novelty wore off, I entertained myself with the front desk computer. Assuming a businesslike pose, I sat for hours alternating between answering the phone and plugging words and topics into various search engines. I typed in old friends’ names and discovered that my classmates from SUNY Stony Brook were now philosophy professors and documentary directors. One had even edited the latest Jacques Cousteau film.

Meanwhile, bringing espressos to hotshots in suits, I was beginning to doubt that my particular path would somehow lead me to realize my own dream of directing a cinematic masterpiece. After college graduation, I had migrated to Paris, leaving New York and my boyfriend behind to pursue the life I imagined to be that of an auteur film director. My Parisian film education consisted of regular screenings at the cinématèque and the small theaters lining the streets near the Sorbonne. Sitting in a dark cinema, I returned to the safety of the womb, united with an international family of strangers.

I wanted to go far away, to become someone else. In the French tongue, my name, “Stacie,” sounded like “Stasi,” the word for the East German secret police. Wanting a name that could be pronounced in any language, I took Elyse, my middle name. I couldn’t change my name entirely, though, for as far away as I wanted to wander, I always wanted to be easily found.
My family still called me Stacie, but not in person because I hadn’t seen them in four years. My schizophrenic brother could barely leave his house, much less get on a plane. My absence was convenient for them. I criticized their überconsumerism, while they couldn’t understand my reluctance to join them in civilization. Though they would have bailed me out if I couldn’t pay my $215/month rent, I wouldn’t ask them to. My relationship with my father and my stepmother, Toni, consisted of a biweekly call to Oklahoma, where we had moved when I was eleven.

“Is everything okay?” they would ask.

“Yeah. Is everything okay?” I would echo back. “Everything’s okay. The same.” The same meant that my nephew was still causing mayhem. My family adopted my nephew Tyler as an infant, when my brother, Jay, and his then girlfriend abandoned him. Struggling with the onset of schizophrenia, Jay and Darla, a seventeen-year-old high school dropout, were in no position to raise a baby. Though I never saw them do drugs, I’d heard rumors that Darla sniffed paint while she was pregnant. Since the moment I snuck into the hospital room and watched Tyler enter the world, I have felt like his guardian angel. I even considered smuggling him into Canada to raise him as my own. Now the child in whom I had put so much hope had become an ornery teenager. The apple had not fallen far from the tree: Tyler had begun to use drugs. Disagreeing with my parents on how to handle him, I was excluded from his life.

The hum of the computer filled the silent office. Monsieur Grange had ordered me not to disturb him in his important meeting, so I was able to hide behind my polite mask while making contact with the outside world via the Internet. On a whim, I typed in “adoption search” and the die was cast. Countless sites appeared. I sorted through them until I found what seemed to be the most reputable, the New York State Adoption Information Registry. Unlike some states and other countries where adoption records are open to adoptees, New York seals adoption records; they can only be opened by petitioning the court. The Adoption Registry allows biological parents, children, and siblings to be put in contact, if all parties have registered. Maybe my birth parents were simply waiting for me to register and I would soon be reunited with the mysterious and formidable characters who had shadowed my life. Perhaps, after searching for many years, they had been unable to find me. On the other hand, as a temp, I certainly was not at the pinnacle of my minor artistic success, and the thought of disappointing these imaginary figures was daunting. Maybe they would reject me again. Or perhaps they wouldn’t be fazed at all, having come to peace with their decision years ago. I would be a hiccup in their reality. The scenarios and possible repercussions of my inquiry multiplied infinitely in my mind, a million possible futures.

I filled in a form requesting identifying and nonidentifying information about my birth parents and sent it to the registry in Albany.


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein Copyright © 2008 by Elyse Schein. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Identical Strangers delves into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. What conclusions does the book draw, if any? Has it changed the way you view the issue?

2. Paula and Elyse discuss the ways in which twins receive special attention in our society. Do you think twins have a special relationship? Why or why not would you want to be a twin?

3. Viola Bernard felt certain that twins would develop better senses of identity if they were raised separately. Even if you don’t agree with her, do you think there is any validity to her claim?

4. “Thank God she is not my carbon copy” (p. 51). When they first meet as adults, Paula and Elyse are both relieved that they are not exactly identical in appearance or personality. How do you think you would react meeting your double for the first time?

5. Paula and Elyse each deal with the news of discovering she has an identical twin differently. How do you think you would react if you were in their situation?

6. “Once we separate today, I worry that my twin will vanish again” (p. 68), Paula writes after their first meeting. Soon after, she writes “I sometimes wish that [Elyse] hadn’t found me” (p. 128). Can you understand Paula’s ambivalence about her relationship with Elyse?

7. “I would like a better word to describe my relationship to Leda,” writes Elyse. “Suddenly it occurs to me that Leda is not my mother, she is our mother” (p. 244). Do you think there is an adequate word to describe the sisters’ relationship to Leda?

8. Mr. Witt seems reluctant to meet with Paula and Elyse. Can you understand his hesitance? Do you consider him to be their “uncle”?

9. Has Identical Strangers changed your views on adoption? If so, how?

10. Were you surprised by how well Paula and Elyse’s families got along when they met? How do you imagine you’d react if you found out your adopted child was a twin? What action would you take, if any?

11. Project into the future. How do you think Paula and Elyse’s relationship will develop after the story ends?

Foreword

1. Identical Strangers delves into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. What conclusions does the book draw, if any? Has it changed the way you view the issue?

2. Paula and Elyse discuss the ways in which twins receive special attention in our society. Do you think twins have a special relationship? Why or why not would you want to be a twin?

3. Viola Bernard felt certain that twins would develop better senses of identity if they were raised separately. Even if you don’t agree with her, do you think there is any validity to her claim?

4. “Thank God she is not my carbon copy” (p. 51). When they first meet as adults, Paula and Elyse are both relieved that they are not exactly identical in appearance or personality. How do you think you would react meeting your double for the first time?

5. Paula and Elyse each deal with the news of discovering she has an identical twin differently. How do you think you would react if you were in their situation?

6. “Once we separate today, I worry that my twin will vanish again” (p. 68), Paula writes after their first meeting. Soon after, she writes “I sometimes wish that [Elyse] hadn’t found me” (p. 128). Can you understand Paula’s ambivalence about her relationship with Elyse?

7. “I would like a better word to describe my relationship to Leda,” writes Elyse. “Suddenly it occurs to me that Leda is not my mother, she is our mother” (p. 244). Do you think there is an adequate word to describe the sisters’ relationship to Leda?

8. Mr. Witt seems reluctant to meet with Paulaand Elyse. Can you understand his hesitance? Do you consider him to be their “uncle”?

9. Has Identical Strangers changed your views on adoption? If so, how?

10. Were you surprised by how well Paula and Elyse’s families got along when they met? How do you imagine you’d react if you found out your adopted child was a twin? What action would you take, if any?

11. Project into the future. How do you think Paula and Elyse’s relationship will develop after the story ends?

Customer Reviews

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Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not stop reading this book -- devoured it in a weekend. This is not just an analysis of the twin relationship or of adoption practice. Nor is it a typical narrative. It is a riveting personal story, like a diary, honestly told by two people suddenly faced with a stunningly unique challenge to their notions of what it means to be 'me.' The personal nature of the storytelling is what gripped me -- at times a bit ragged, at times emotionally inconsistent, and with twists and turns no novelist would dare invent. It's very real, and I often found myself wishing i could just go have coffee with Paula and Elyse to hear their latest. They are remarkably introspective people who question rather than just accept.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was happily surprised by not only the warmth and charm of the story and writing but also the educational value. They have definitely done their homework about twins- and I was delighted not only to come out having read a fascinating story but also having learned a lot about the lives of twins. Elyse and Paula's made it easy to understand what they must have been feeling throughout incredible and unlikely circumstances and held nothing back to help us understand the roller coaster events of the reunion
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great! Very thought provoking!
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really interesting.Elise and Paula have fullfilling lives, and one day they discover they are sisters, adopted seperatly with the desire to be studied as part of a twin study on nature vs. nuture.What I found so captivating about this book was how one twin really didn't welcome the intrusion of the other into her life. Also amazing how they did discover their birth mother, and how sad her life was.Look forward to reading more about their growing relationship.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I cannot IMAGINE the reaction I would have if suddenly I found out I had a lost sibling - let alone an identical twin. Because that is an unfathomable event to me - I was very eager to read this book. (That and the fact that it dealt with adoption - which is very close to my heart.) I am always intrigued by "What If?" situations - and this is an ultimate "What If?"Although I am not sure how happy Paula and Elyse might be to hear this - one of the only problems I had with the book was that their voices are so similar. Each part of the narrative is headed with the name of the twin that is speaking - and yet I kept having to flip back and check who was "speaking". Only in the last third of the book did I start to get a solid grasp of whose voice was whose. Again - the women being similar in many ways - I can't say that this is unexpected - but maybe a bit of revision is in order to further distinguish which narrator is speaking.I sympathized with both Elyse and Paula as they struggles to come to grips with their new roles as sisters and twins - and I appreciated the sometimes brutal honesty that they revealed to one another and to the reader. Admissions that sometimes one wished she could disappear from the other's life, one confessing that she secretly hoped that when their birth mother was found it would turn out that she was deceased. These are startling at first - but when I took time to think about it, given the circumstances, I cannot say that those types of thoughts might pass through my mind.As the women investigate the circumstances of their birth and separation - I grew more and more disturbed by the people who shaped their destinies. Mengele¿s twin studies came immediately to mind - and were referenced several times throughout the book. These children were seen as some sort of sociological treasure trove - with little or no regard to the fact that they were human beings capable of loss and pain.My heart goes out to Paula and Elyse - for all that they lost and also for what they have gained. I wish I knew more of their lives before they discovered one another so that I could more fully appreciate the "after" but I think that the journey they have taken together and what they have learned about themselves in the process is an invaluable one. I agree with the underlying sentiment of the book that while their separation never should have happened - it was the only thing that COULD have happened - and it is what made them who they are today.
msbaba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Half way through Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, one twin asks the other: ¿If your family had raised me and mine had raised you, would I be you and would you be me?¿ By the end of the book, the reader clearly understands the answer is ¿no.¿ It is worth reading the whole book to find out why. But a far more compelling reason to read the book is this: we are all suckers for reunion stories, and perhaps there is no more fascinating reunion story than one between identical twins reunited after half a lifetime of not knowing that they had a twin. That is what drew me so strongly to this book, and on this score, too, the book delivers nicely. Elyse and Paula were adopted by separate families completely unaware that their daughters had an identical twin being raised by another family located in the same city. The girls reunite in 2003 when they are 35 years old. The book is their joint memoir about their difficult reunion and the resulting deep bond that slowly, and at times painfully, develops between them. Their story is highly personal, heart-felt, and deeply emotional. Plus there are mysteries at the core that compel you to find out more. Who was their mother? Why did she abandon them? Who are their biological family? Where are they? Halfway through their investigation, the twins discover a dark side to their particular adoption. With dogged journalistic skills they uncover every lead until they finally arrive at the truth. You¿ll be thoroughly surprised to learn the true reasons behind their unusual adoptions¿and you can¿t help but be proud of their perseverance. These are two extremely bright and tough young women.Seared in my brain was the reaction they finally received from their birth-uncle when they are reunited with him toward the end of the book. It has been over a week since I finished the book, and I still can¿t get that particular meeting out of my mind. It was chilling!Identical Strangers is excellent journalism made personal. Both woman write compelling first-person narratives and are not embarrassed to expose their true feelings. The alternating first person narratives falter from time to time, when each twin switches gears to incorporate summary academic findings about twins reared apart or the nature-vs.-nurture debate. But this information is useful and it is covered in an easy-to-understand, nonscientific manner. I recommend the book to anyone who loves unusual true-life stories. Of course, this book will be of particular interest to twins, twins researchers, and psychologists. One final note: I hope, in time, Elyse and Paula will reconsider allowing themselves to be studied in detail by twins experts. There is a lot yet to be uncovered in this fascinating field of study and every example of identical twins reared apart helps fit the pieces together. There are still not enough real-life examples to form statistically reliable research samplings. If these two add themselves to the existing data pool, we will be all that closer to the truth.
goldiebear on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to this book as it I thought it would be an interesting subject. But I was somewhat dissapointed,I couldn't figure out who's point of view was which and who was speaking most of the time. It was very repetitive and I found it annoying to be quite frank. It got more interesting at the end when they actually meet their realtives. However, it could have been better written, as it was all over the place. The writing was shaky and all over the place. Though it did keep me enaged for the most part.
DianaCoats on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Left to my own devices I don't often read non-fiction. Not because I don't enjoy it, it is just that the books I hear about are largely fiction and there are just so many hours that I can read. Therefore, it is with IMMENSE gratitude that I thank Random House and LibraryThing for sending me this book. This work is told in Tandem by two identical twin sisters, Paula and Elyse. What makes their story unique (the book taught me that identical twins are NOT unique, fraternal ones are) is that the adoption agency separated them as infants and told neither of their adoptive families that they were a twin.This book is a story of their journey of discovery and their sleuthing work to find out why they were separated and who their birth family was.The book is peppered with information about twins in general, much of which I had never heard. Equally fascinating was following these women as they spoke to various people who had information about who had separated them and why. Their journey leads them to other separated and reunited twins and doesn't sugar coat anything. This book is their real thoughts and feelings on a life changing event.For me this is one of those books that I wished had a few hundred more pages although I realize that they had told their story. This book is worth the read. Absolutely. Without Question.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Identical Strangers is a great story that combines the childhood fantasy of discovering you have an identical twin with a science fiction plot wherein the characters discover that a critical portion of their life was dictated by the experimental design of a now dead researcher. Both Elyse and Paula grew up knowing they were adopted, and while Paula turned out to have more luck as life progressed from childhood to adulthood, they both became, in their own way, successful adults. Neither had the inclination to seek out the identity of their birth mother upon coming of age - in fact Paula, a freelance journalist, wrote an article entitled "Why I don't want to meet my birth mother". At the age of 33, almost on a whim, Elyse starts to Google about adoption and their shared journey begins. First Elyse is informed she has an identical twin - which forces the same discovery on Paula. Next the new sisters together receive a few surprises about their mother. As the plot, (or as they state their "investigation") continues they uncover some shocking details about the supposedly prestigious adoption agency which was deeply revered by both their parents.The book structured in perfect chronological order, with the different voices of Elyse and Paula, alternating as the story progresses. Hence the same events are being described from two points of view. Paula comes off as both the better grounded, and the better writer, of the two. Along the way, they meet various players in the drama of reunited twins including of course, the other twin's family, others identical twins (separated and not separated at birth), people from the adoption agency, and the twin researchers of long ago. The story ends, as you would expect, with them finding as much as they can about their birth mother. The result is definitely an engrossing plot and a quick read. The problem is that the book purports to be more than good story. As a personal memoir(s), the book is merely mediocre. Both the twins poorly translate their feelings into words. The expressions of their inner worlds are either childishly trite (Elyse) or overly guarded (Paula), and subsequently there is little insight beyond the predictable about what it feels like to be in this special situation. As book on twins, Identical Strangers is just plain bad. Within their telling of the chronological story, both twins write independently (sometimes repetitively) on how various twin studies have tried to differentiate between facets of personality that are defined by nature and nurture. In these portions, the authors delve into numerous amateurish descriptions of scientific work, continually putting equal significance on datum from twins they met and data from researchers. In these sections, the consistent inability to differentiate between improbable and probable shared characteristics between any two random people was annoying at best. As the twins are ineffective at both describing what it means emotionally and scientifically to be twins, the book remains ambiguous on a fundamental question - was separating them at birth morally wrong?With that said, Elyse and Paula have a very unique and engrossing story to tell, and while it could have been told better, it is worth reading for the plot alone.
cabegley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Disney¿s popular film The Parent Trap, the discovery by two girls that they are identical twins is presented as a fun romp, and the parents who separated them as babies are seen as misguided romantics. In reality, as Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein recount in their memoir Identical Strangers, the separation of identical twins is a highly traumatic event. Schein and Bernstein take turns in telling their tale, their narratives sometimes overlapping, their opinions sometimes diverging, of how they were separated as infants and placed with two different adoptive families, only discovering this when Schein started looking for her birth mother 35 years later. As they join together to piece together the mystery of their separation, they uncover increasingly disturbing information about the agencies that were meant to protect them. While the story itself would have made a compelling feature article, or even an investigative series, at over 250 pages the telling starts to wear thin. The twins¿ personal recollections are interwoven with factual information and scientific studies in a jarring and abrupt fashion. Additionally, the decision not to use different typefaces for the two narrators, while understandable (after all, they are identical twins), in practice proves difficult for the reader. In all, an interesting story diluted by an overlong narrative.
BONS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh how I enjoyed this memoir of twins seperated, adopted and then found each other over thirty years later when neither knew of the other. The authors, Elyse & Paula also are the voices for the audio and it's presentation along with the pictures in the book has been done so very well. The story is both heart breakingly vivid and also joyous as each tell their personal account. I could not put the book down or pick up an additional read until I had finished this story. I love reading about twins but to get the book and learn of the adoption was interesting as I too, found my birthmother. But to also learn of the twins being seperatd for a mere study was just tough to hear.
KatySilbs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was fascinated by this book, as a human being and as a Librarian. Do any of us do the best we can with the DNA we are given? Imagine meeting someone who started life with the same tabula rasa and studying your similarities and differences.I enjoyed the alternating narrative that looked at the same events through different pairs of eyes sharing the same DNA. As a Librarian, the book reminded me of why we keep, organize and disseminate so much information. Who can really know what pieces of paper may change someone's life? Yet again, people discover profound truths in the New York Public Library and in academic archives.Overall, this is an engaging book.
twryan72 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting....fascinating really. A bit whiny at times....for all of their claims to be so similar...I liked one sister alot more than the other!
Scrabblenut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These identical twins did not find each other until age 35. The book alternates chapters by each twin, telling their separate thoughts on learning about their twin and slowly trying to form a relationship. Most interesting.
benruth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book for anyone who has ever fantasized about finding a long-lost twin...to the authors of this book, separated at birth and adopted by different families, this actually happened. What is surprising and intriguing about the book is that it is not merely a warm reunion story---it lays bare the complications of suddenly discovering someone who resembles oneself and yet remains on some level a stranger. Although it is overall a positive book, after reading it one realizes that the long-lost-twin fantasy isn't necessarily as simple or as glorious in real life as it may be in imagination.
tamils on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating concept, but poorly executed. I loved the idea of a book about identical twins separated at birth and meeting for the first time in their 30s. Unfortunately, the writing is clunky and unengaging; the length padded. The book is coauthored by the twins in alternating first-person viewpoints, and the authors may have been too close to the topic to make a satisfying story of it. Elyse comes across as needy and insecure, and Paula as ambivalent. The main emotion conveyed is that it is very uncomfortable to meet your identical twin as an adult. Though that is no doubt true, it is tiresome to read about for an entire book, and the insights don't get much deeper than that. The story of how the twins met and investigated their past together is awkwardly intermingled with twin-study vignettes, with segues between the two that are occasionally cringeworthy. One particularly glaring offender: "Though we have so much in common, we are surprised to find out that, while Paula broke her arm at age eleven, I have never broken any bones. Other pairs of twins, however, have discovered many other eerily timed similarities...."Actually, you can open most any page and find bad writing. "'Regardless of outside pressures, I was driven to succeed,' says Paula. 'Me, too,' I chime in. Paula and I marvel at what appears to be our innate ambitiousness. We're not surprised to find later that researchers at the University of Minnesota found that twins reared apart often chose similar jobs...."On a completely different note, the lack of a photo section was a disappointing omission. The cover photos of two infants, presumably the twins, are the only pictures of the authors.
cammie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was interested to read this book because I find twins interested. As an adult, I once mistook my uncle for his identical twin -- my father. Although identical in appearance, they were different in subtle ways -- as are other identicals that I know well. I found the "I'm like that too!" comments initially interesting, but after awhile, they became repetitive and trivial. Really -- how many people who are not my twin write with the same sort of pen I use? And, despite their similar bouts with depression, I found their writing about the wrong done to them by the adoption agency bordering on whining. I cannot argue the separating twins or conducting observational experiments on them was not cruel -- it was. But, this book begins to fail in conveying that by the repetiveness to it. Written as an interleafed diary by each twin, the book is at first interesting, but their voices are too similar to keep track as to whom is writing the section. While this is fascinating and underscores the similarities in personalities between the sisters, as a narrative technique it comes up a little short. Tight editing would have reduced this book by 100 pages and made it more readable and captivating without loosing both the mystique of the twins and the dual-edged sword of bitterness and happiness with finding each other in midlife. Still, if one is interested in the topic of adoption and twins, I would recommend this book.
tobiejonzarelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein, writer & film maker & Paula Bernstein, freelance writer, is both an interesting and provocative memoir. These twins, separated as infants and raised in different homes, were unaware of each other's existence as were their adoptive families until their mid-thirties when Elyse contacts the prestigious Jewish adoption agency Louise Wise Services, that handled her initial placement, in an attempt to find her biological mother. The news is stunning to both women and while Elyse is eager for this reunion, Paula is unsettled and ambivalent about having her life turned upside down just when everything was going so well. Hearing of their similarities is engaging, as is the idea of meeting your doppelgänger but what is really fascinating and never quite resolved is how and why this separation happened to both of these women and to other twins placed by the same agency. We learn that Dr. Viola Bernard a psychiatric consultant for the agency believed that it was best for twins to be reared apart, a lone voice in the psychiatric literature of the time. We also learn that Dr. Peter Neubauer a prominent psychoanalyst and director of the Freud archives at the time, took advantage of this belief and conducted a 'twins study' funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health. If twins and triplets were going to be separated, then this study would follow their development, all the while without full disclosure to the prospective adoptive families. Elyse and Paula and other affected twins, did make an unsuccessful attempt to view their records from this study, which now belong to the Yale archives and will remain sealed until the year 2066. While none of this was strictly illegal at the time, the monstrous scientific license these doctors took with both the children's and the adoptive families lives is in my opinion unconscionable.Note: this review is based on the Advance Reader's Edition of the memoir.Mary Jones
readingrebecca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Identical Strangers is the story of Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein. Both women knew they were adopted. Elyse, in her mid-thirties, started looking for her biological mother. What she found instead was that she was an identical twin. Paula never had any inclination to find her birth mother, but received a call one day informing her that she was an identical twin. The story, told in alternating points of view by the two women, is what happened once these women meet and attempt to try and find out why they were separated and adopted by different families. I so looked forward to this book as it is such a fascinating subject. Who hasn't dreamt of finding they have a long-lost twin? But I was somewhat dissapointed in Identical Strangers. I think it is a story that could have been told better by a third person. There was too much repetition. For instance, I read many times how much Paula was not sure she wanted to meet her twin, how afraid she was that she would become responsible for her twin. There were many references to other separated twins which I found interesting, such as, once reunited and tested, many identical twins have IQs within one point of each other. Toward the end of the book, when they meet with an actual blood relative, I did find the book much more interesting. Overall, though, I found it disappointing.
sapsygo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Identical Strangers was a reasonably decent book - compelling and engaging while I read it, but with a variety of problems and issues once I finished it and stepped back a bit. The overall plot is quite compelling, because after all, identical twins - particularly those separated at birth - have always held a special place in our minds. However, I thought that it could have been better written and better put together. I felt that the details of the studies were interesting, but too scattered and sometimes too forced into the narrative to work as well as they might have done. The writing was somewhat uneven, and I think that as far as a memoir goes it was a little too guarded and repetitive to work. I think this could have been a much better book if it was written 10 years from now, with more distance from the initial events. Perhaps that would have allowed for more introspection and a greater cohesion to the whole story. Still though, it was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to someone with an interest in twins.
paghababian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elyse and Paula are sisters, twins... except they never even knew the other existed until they were in their mid-30s. This book follows the two women as the first discover, then meet and bond with, each other. As they begin to build their relationship (which at times almost feels like they're dating, with the emotional highs and lows they go through), they discover the secrets behind their separation years before.At times, it's hard to believe this story is true. Everyone's wondered what it would be like to have a twin, but finding one later in life would just be mind-blowing. Understandably, the sisters have a hard time with it, and it's unique to be able to see both prospectives presented side by side. I don't usually read memoirs, but this was compelling and touching and had a good flow.My one problem with the book was that sometimes it got a little two clinical. The twins would go from discussing how they were feeling at a specific moment right into some genetics theory or the outcome of studies on twins. Also, since the book was split between two voices, each voice took a turn with the scientific information - often overlapping with information the other had already presented. This didn't take away from the story, but I often found myself stumbling along through a passage that was much more dense the previous paragraph had been.This is a fast and easy read that will appeal to readers across many genres.
Doondeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. Having Paula and Elyse alternate in telling the story of finding each other and then discovering their past added to dynamism of the book. (Paula is a better writer than Elyse.) The book holds your attention and moves along like a good mystery. I got a real sense of the emotion of discovering they were identical twins and then their anger at the adoption agency that separated them and how that agency participated in a study of separated twins. You feel the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy in the adoption community. I found interesting the additional material they provided about scientific studies of identical twins, such as having the same habits, nearly identical IQs and amazing similarities the milestones of life. I wish they had added section about sexual preference between identical twins. The whole "nature vs. nurture" debate was not resolved but certainly enlightened. Finally I was struck by the honesty of the writers; they clearly learned to love each other but the competition between them was very revealing.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein are identical twins, who were adopted by different families as infants in 1969. The New York City adoption agency which handled their cases had a "policy" of separating twins, based on the recommendation of Viola Bernard, the agency's psychiatric consultant, who believed twins would be better off if raised apart. The women meet in their mid-30s when Elyse begins a search for information about her birth parents, learns she has a twin, and is put in touch with Paula through the adoption agency. The book describes their reunion, their developing relationship, and the subsequent search for information about their origins. Paula and Elyse learn that not only were they separated at birth, they were also part of a child development study of several separated, adopted "multiples." This was one of the more interesting aspects of the book, as the women's research led them to other participants, and to a better understanding of the study's purpose. Much of their history was influenced by the values and beliefs of the time, and is quite appalling when viewed through a modern lens.Unfortunately, this book appears to be trying to do too many things at once: report on a psychological study, educate the reader on twins and the concept of "nature vs. nurture," and serve as a memoir of a personal journey. The memoir alternates sections written individually by each woman, presumably to convey their different points of view. However, this approach also magnified each woman's individual insecurities and vulnerabilities. Elyse appears overly concerned with her appearance, especially as compared to Paula. Paula at times regrets being contacted by Elyse. There are also far too many words devoted to comparing the each woman's formative experiences: they are allergic to the same drug, they both struggled to control their weight, they pursued similar studies at university. Page after page is filled with, "I did that!" ... "Me, too!" and often about minutiae that would only be interesting to the two people directly involved. Then, at one point, Elyse gets carried away. She is surprised that Paula broke her arm as a teenager, whereas Elyse did not. She compares this to two separated twins who had both stopped menstruating for a few months at age 18. These two situations -- one accidental, one biological -- really can't be compared at all. At this point the book reminded me of the Lincoln - Kennedy Coincidences I remember being fascinated with as a child.This book's premise was fascinating, but unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations.
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is wonderful that these two found each other. It hit a lot on the nature vs nurture argument which I thought was interesting.
sussabmax on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like many people, I find twins fascinating. I always wished that I had a twin that I didn't know about, that I would find someday. The authors of this book made just such a discovery, although they weren't quite as happy about it. I found the discussions about the evolving relationship between the unknown sisters very interesting. A twin relationship is a very close relationship, and it would be very difficult to have someone so familiar that is actually a stranger. It was difficult to figure out how close to be to this stranger, for both women. I thought that the alternating chapters between the authors was a very effective way to explore the way they built their relationship. Overall, though, it seemed like the book could have used a stronger narrative structure. I understand that sometimes you just can't know everything about your past, no matter how much you want to, but to a certain extent the book just kind of stopped more than it ended. Still, I thought both women were good writers who were honestly exploring a very difficult and private subject that must have been difficult to share. Despite the not-so-strong ending, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to others.