Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited
Elyse Schein & Paula Bernstein
LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
First sentence: Imagine that a slightly different version of you walks across a room, looks you in the eye, and says hello in your voice.
Reflections: 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. ( )
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