Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

identical_strangersElyse Shein and Paula Bernstein had always known they were adopted, but it was not until they were in their mid-30s that they knew they were twins. This engrossing book chronicles their discovery of each other and their quest to learn more about the circumstances of their adoption and the identity of their birth mother.

The sisters alternate telling their story, with one sharing her thoughts for several paragraphs before the other takes over. Thus, we see each woman’s take on the events surrounding their reunion and their research. Along with recounting  their own story, Schein and Bernstein share research into twins and stories of other twins separated at birth. Some of what they discover, about other twins and about themselves, is mind-boggling.

The sisters’ differences, more than their similarities, were what made this book particularly interesting to me. Their similarities, such as the fact that they both studied film, are merely uncanny, the kind of thing you always hear about in stories of reunited twins. But their sometimes dramatic differences in attitude give their story extra layers, speaking not just to their different backgrounds, but also to how different people react to their circumstances. Schein feels robbed of an important relationship and immediately attaches to her new-found twin, but Bernstein is less certain of how she feels about their situation and what she wants now:

If we had grown up together, our lives would have been entirely different. I’m reluctant to head down the road of what-ifs. It might just be an enormous rationalization, but I have always clung to the notion of fate. Life works out the way it is meant to be, and so I reason that Elyse and I couldn’t have grown up together; that’s not what was meant to be.

Their lives would certainly have been different if they had been kept together, but does it follow that they would be happier people? There’s no way to know, and Bernstein’s struggles with the question are thought-provoking, particularly when contrasted with her sister’s firm belief that an obvious wrong is now being made right. I appreciated both sisters’ honesty as they explored their reactions to the situation and to each other.

Had this been written by one sister, it would have felt unbalanced, and an outsider might have been too quick to impose his or own opinions on the story, looking for patterns that may or may not be significant. With each sister sharing her own thoughts and interpretations, we get both balance and immediacy, which make this an enaging read.

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3 Responses to Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

  1. Sharon Walling says:

    What a great review. I’m adopted, but not a twin. I will definitely have to get this book.

    I’ve had the opportunity to meet my biological parents, and after growing up as an only child to having 16 brothers & sisters. I’ve met all but 3. I had a sister that passed and 2 brothers that I haven’t met, but have talked to.

    I also had a daugher at the age of 29. I’m now 52 and 2 yrs ago we met for the 1st time and she will be in my life forever. We get along great.

  2. Staci says:

    Now this sounds truly interesting. I love your take on this book. I’m going to have to add it to my TBR non-fiction. Thanks for the great review.

    BTW…found your blog through Weekly Geeks!!

  3. Dreamybee says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of twins who were separated at birth and then reunited later in life. Really makes you think about that nature vs. nurture thing, doesn’t it?

    I found you through Weekly Geeks too, through Literary Menagerie.

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