Monday, October 29, 2007

Identical Strangers (eBook Edition)

Imagine a slightly different version of you walks across the room, looks you in the eye and says “hello” in your voice. You discover that she has the same birthday, the same allergies, the same tics, and the same way of laughing. Looking at this person, you are able to gaze into your own eyes and see yourself from the outside. This identical individual has the exact same DNA as you and is essentially your clone. We don’t have to imagine. . .

Identical Strangers was one of those books that immediately grabbed my attention – I had to read it. You see, my Grandfather was a twin and I have two sets of twin cousins. Growing up I was always fascinated by them. They were somehow special and eerily complete in their own separate world. I confess I was a little jealous.

Elyse and Paula, twins separated at birth have written an engaging story about finding each other and negotiating a relationship. They each tell their own story as they discover the story of their past and begin to negotiate a relationship. This very personal memoir reads like a novel. I was captivated from the first page.

The girls were separated as part of a study about nature vs nurture. It does not take a psychologist to look at kids and wonder about what comes as factory installed equipment and what is added in the after market? How much of our personality and point of view is innate and how much is learned? How much are we changed by our attitudes and experiences?

My cousins were so identical as children that the only way anyone, including their Mother, could tell them apart was that one had a mole behind his ear and the other didn’t. Yet as adults they have had very different lives and have evolved into very distinct people. They behave differently. They even look different. You would certainly peg them as brothers, but not necessarily as twins

Any parent, even an “unnatural” (a non-blood related) parent, studies their children and wonders who they resemble in looks, temperament and personality. Twins, so alike and yet so different, give us a glimmer of an idea. And twins, separated at birth, up the ante.

This is a terrific book. Elyse and Paula tell the story with brutal honesty and great charm. Here is the publisher’s synopsis:

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. When Elyse contacted her adoption agency, she was not prepared for the shocking, life-changing news she received: She had an identical twin sister. Elyse was then hit with another bombshell: she and her sister had been separated as infants, and for a time, had been 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 the 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 and take their tentative first steps from strangers to sisters, Paula and Elyse are also left with haunting questions surrounding their origins and their separation. They learn that the study was conducted by a pair of influential psychiatrists associated with a prestigious adoption agency. As they investigate their birth mother’s past, Paula and Elyse move closer toward solving the puzzle of their lives.

In alternating voices, Paula and Elyse write with emotional honesty about the immediate intimacy they share as twins and the wide chasm that divides them as two complete strangers. Interweaving eye-opening studies and statistics on twin science into their narrative, they offer an intelligent and heartfelt glimpse into human nature.

Identical Strangers is the amazing story of two women coming to terms with the strange and unbelievable hand fate has dealt them, an account that broadens the definition of family and provides insight into our own DNA and the singularly exceptional imprint it leaves on our lives.

"A transfixing memoir."--Publishers Weekly "Poignant."--Reader's Digest "Absorbing."--Wired "Fascinating . . . An intelligent exploration of how identity intersects with bloodlines. A must-read for anybody interested in what it means to be a family."—Bust

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