Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and United

I recently read Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and United by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein.  This is one of those can't-put-it-down kind of books.  For me the most shocking part is that it was true, real-life, actually happened!  It read like a mystery novel.

Here is the description of the book from Amazon:
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.
I am not adopted, but I have worked professionally for many years in Adoption related fields.  So I found it especially fascinating that such secrecy occurred, and not even that long ago!  I couldn't imagine being that caseworker or researcher knowing that the girls were twins and not telling the adoptive parents!  What a conflict they must have experienced.  I still have dreams and regular thoughts about the Child Protective Cases (child abuse) I worked on in the early part of my career.  There are so many things that I would do differently now after years of professional and personal experience.  I can't help but wonder if the workers involved in these (many) separated twin adoptions felt the same.

The other aspect of the book that I found especially interesting is the concept of nature verses nurture.  As a therapist this is right up my alley.  What I found remarkable were the many examples of separated twin similarities despite being raised apart.  I can't help but wonder in what ways my children (and myself) are destined biologically to act, look and think.  And of course in what ways I have been shaped by my environment.  Would I look physically differently if I hadn't lived in Hawaii for 4 years?  Or if I had started eating (more) healthy foods earlier?  What if I actually exercised regularly (ha).  Ah, the possibilities.

The sisters started life out looking completely alike.  However their environments (and therefore decisions on where to live, what to eat, etc) shaped their physical appearances and now they look similar but not identical.  Fascinating!

Now you can see why this book has caught my interest.  I have been telling all of my friends about it non-stop since I finished it last week.  I highly recommend reading it, I found my copy at the local library.


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