Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited Info

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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

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Ratings and Reviews From Market


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Reviews for Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited:

4

Nov 30, 2008

The book is about the emotions and adjustments made by a pair of identical twins adopted separately when they are reunited. Ultimately, we learn that nature is responsible for the strangest things being similar - gestures and choice of career among them - but that identical twins can be completely different in personality and that they themselves seek to find similarities between each other, even while they deny those that exist.

But not all twins are looking for more and more points where they The book is about the emotions and adjustments made by a pair of identical twins adopted separately when they are reunited. Ultimately, we learn that nature is responsible for the strangest things being similar - gestures and choice of career among them - but that identical twins can be completely different in personality and that they themselves seek to find similarities between each other, even while they deny those that exist.

But not all twins are looking for more and more points where they are identical. Some do their best to deny there is anything between them other than a biological accident that resulted in them looking alike.

I was good friends and worked with an identical twin like that at one time, Laura. I didn't know she was a twin and used to get upset that the girl I went to lunch with Monday to Friday would do no more than nod her head to me if she saw me at the weekend. Eventually the story emerged. It would make a good reality show so banal, but dramatic it was.

Laura had pinched her twin's boyfriend, a divorced man, Tom, and they got married, a big white wedding, within months. Laura's identical twin Lara did not attend the wedding, she was unable to forgive her sister and the two were not on speaking terms. Laura got pregnant almost straight away, but the marriage didn't last. Before her pregnancy was even showing she had thrown Tom out because she said that he was seeing her twin on the sly. And so he was. He moved straight back in with Lara

It turned out that Tom had made Lara pregnant even before he and Laura had split up. Both sisters gave birth within three months of each other. Tom left both of them and went back to his ex-wife and their son. The twins saw each other only when they were dropping off or picking up their children from their mother who babysat them during working hours but were otherwise scarcely on speaking terms (as you might imagine).

Having the same father, the babies, girls, are half-sisters, having sisters for mothers, they are first cousins, but since the mothers DNA was 100% alike they are also, genetically, full sisters. The irony is that the little girls look almost exactly alike, and one wonders if they are doomed to repeat their mothers' awful rivalry.

The twins in the book, both of whom are Goodreads authors are the opposite to my friend and her twin. They think they are far more alike than they actually are.

Two people separated by adoption may have the same inherited processing equipment, but our brains, our reactions are modified by each event, and our thinking is necessarily a product of all our experiences. No matter how much the author twins wanted to be alike, too much water had passed under the bridge, and they are quite different. As with two artists fulfilling the same commission with the same clay but not being able to see each others work, the resulting statues will show the different vision of each. We are too much the product of our individual lives for it to be otherwise.
...more
2

Dec 24, 2007

This is an relatively interesting account of identical twins who discovered each other's existence in their 30's. The first few chapters get annoying. One of the twins spends a good deal of time re-writing every event in her life in terms of being a twin. At several points, she writes "maybe I am over-analyzing this, but...". If you have to offer that introduction to the sentence, you are over-analyzing. The twins do have a difficult time adjusting to their similiarities and differences. The This is an relatively interesting account of identical twins who discovered each other's existence in their 30's. The first few chapters get annoying. One of the twins spends a good deal of time re-writing every event in her life in terms of being a twin. At several points, she writes "maybe I am over-analyzing this, but...". If you have to offer that introduction to the sentence, you are over-analyzing. The twins do have a difficult time adjusting to their similiarities and differences. The worst part of the book was one twin's obsession with her twin's weight. I would like to think that my third question on learning that I had a long-lost twin would not be "how much do you weigh?" ...more
3

Apr 24, 2017

Identical Strangers A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein was an interesting and informative read. Though I'm not a twin, nor have I ever harboured some secret desire to have been one, I always find myself intrigued by the relationship between twins. Some of my favourite works of fiction have been centred around twins (think titles such as "I Know This Much Is True", "Cutting For Stone" and "I'll Give You the Sun"). My sister and I have a close relationship Identical Strangers A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein was an interesting and informative read. Though I'm not a twin, nor have I ever harboured some secret desire to have been one, I always find myself intrigued by the relationship between twins. Some of my favourite works of fiction have been centred around twins (think titles such as "I Know This Much Is True", "Cutting For Stone" and "I'll Give You the Sun"). My sister and I have a close relationship and often joke that we have a kind of sibling ESP, so it was no surprise for me to learn she too is intrigued by twins and she recommended this title as one I might enjoy.

Elyse and Paula deliver their story in alternate voices. Adopted to separate families as babies, they tell of their reactions to learning they had a twin, share their feelings and emotions at being reunited soon after this discovery at the age of 33. They detailed their investigation into the reasons for their separation, and the outcome of their search for their biological mother. Theirs was an interesting, and I imagine distressing story for all involved. Although I felt for them I was not especially emotional about their plight. Did I think it was unethical for them to be separated as part of a study into Nature versus Nurture? Of course I did and I could not believe that neither set of adoptive parents was informed of the existence of a twin, nor offered the chance to adopt both girls. Like them I was happy they had each had relatively good lives but you can't help wondering at how their lives might have been under different circumstances. As for similarities despite their separation, it was clear there were many but they were also quite different in a number of ways. They'd each suffered depression in their teens, had each felt a loss they couldn't explain. When reunited they discovered they had lead similar lives, had chosen similar careers and quite frankly freaked each other out with their similar mannerisms and expressions. If I'm honest, I possibly enjoyed the research about other separated twins as much if not more than their own story. This was an easy read and provided me with some interesting case studies to (Google) read up on - such as the Jim twins with their almost impossible to believe similarities, and the Jewish and Nazi twins. ...more
4

Mar 10, 2008

I love a good human interest story, and this book fit the bill. It also fed my fascination with multiples that began when I became good friends with identical twins in junior high. Separated at birth and raised by two different adoptive families, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein are reunited nearly 35 years later. They are shocked at the physical similarities they share, but they are even more surprised at everything else they have in common--personality traits, interests, facial expressions, I love a good human interest story, and this book fit the bill. It also fed my fascination with multiples that began when I became good friends with identical twins in junior high. Separated at birth and raised by two different adoptive families, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein are reunited nearly 35 years later. They are shocked at the physical similarities they share, but they are even more surprised at everything else they have in common--personality traits, interests, facial expressions, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, and ambitions. The memoir is written by both sisters and provides the same story from two points of view. They have also included data from numerous studies documenting the lives of twins in search of an answer to the "nature vs. nurture" question. By the end of the book, I was awed by Elyse's and Paula's emotional journey. I, too, felt a range of emotions that spilled over during the last chapter. This memoir is well-written and I would love to see a "Part 2" somewhere down the line. ...more
4

Jan 15, 2011

Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. I could not put this book down. Although it was confusing (even through the end of the book) to keep straight the differing narratives of Elyse and Paula in my mind, I also appreciated the dual POVs. I loved the interplay of their stories with facts about twins and studies and the ongoing mystery and sleuthing regarding the conditions of their birth, their birth mother and the twin studies they were part of.

I kept alternating between anger that people could so Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. I could not put this book down. Although it was confusing (even through the end of the book) to keep straight the differing narratives of Elyse and Paula in my mind, I also appreciated the dual POVs. I loved the interplay of their stories with facts about twins and studies and the ongoing mystery and sleuthing regarding the conditions of their birth, their birth mother and the twin studies they were part of.

I kept alternating between anger that people could so callously separate twins on purpose just to study them and grief at the loss to the twins (and sometimes, triplets). To be taken from their birth mothers is hard enough but then to be taken from their womb-mates! I just want to weep. No one could begrudge these people the lives they eventually lived, but one cannot help but wonder at what could have been.

I highly recommend this book! ...more
3

Feb 24, 2008

I happened upon this book on a "new books" table at the local Borders and was immediately drawn to it. It begins with a woman looking for information about her birth mother, and who discovers not only that she was actually a twin, separated from her sister before their respective adoptions, but also that the two children had been part of a secret study on twins. Soon she is reunited with her twin sister, and the two together embark on a project to unearth as much information as possible I happened upon this book on a "new books" table at the local Borders and was immediately drawn to it. It begins with a woman looking for information about her birth mother, and who discovers not only that she was actually a twin, separated from her sister before their respective adoptions, but also that the two children had been part of a secret study on twins. Soon she is reunited with her twin sister, and the two together embark on a project to unearth as much information as possible regarding the secret study and their participation in it.

Although it's not a particularly heavy book to read -- in fact, it reads more like an extended magazine article -- the story is quite absorbing. It proved to be quite a page-turner for me, its "truth-is-stranger-than-fiction"-type suspense keeping me up late nights, telling myself, "OK, just a few more pages and then I'll stop - I just wanna see what happens next". Who hasn't wondered, at some point in their lives, "Suppose I'm not actually who I think I am?" It's impossible to read this book without wondering, "What must that be like?"

Surprisingly, the pivotal mystery of the book, the secret study, turned out to be of somewhat less interest to me as a reader than the title and book flap would suggest. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say that the study is only peripheral, dealt with in a chapter or two then discarded. Rather -- and I'm struggling to find the right words here to express what I mean exactly -- I expected a more sensational tone throughout the book as the chapters provided ever more shocking revelations about the secret study, the twins' separation, and whatever else had been kept hidden.

Of course, the study does play a central role in the story, but the tone is much less what I expected. As the story goes on and the sisters begin to access information in bits and pieces, the sense of urgency becomes more blunted, and the secret study mainly functions as the engine that moves the action constantly forward. Whereas the real substance of the story is the sisters' interior journeys as the come to terms with this continual flow (sometimes a tidal wave, sometimes a trickle) of discoveries about their histories, which inevitably challenge every thing they knew about their lives, and ultimately their own sense of identity and self.

This, to me, was the most interesting part of the book. Along the way, the book also raises intriguing and confounding questions about the notion of nature-vs-nurture, many of them discussed by the authors as they proceed with their own research into studies and articles based on twin research.

What I was most impressed with in this book was how personal and honest it was. The narrative continually bounces back and forth between the two authors, with the sisters alternating the narration every few paragraphs or pages. (This is done quite well, and I didn't find it intrusive at all). But it surely couldn't have been comfortable for either of the sisters to reveal some of their doubts and fears and secret wishes and misgivings about discovering a twin and incorporating her into their lives -- especially knowing that in revealing all this to their readers, they would also be confessing them to their twin. And yet you don't sense any hesitation on their part to do this. I marvel at their openness, and thank them for it, as it is certainly a big part in what makes the book an engaging read.

It's very clear that both the authors are writers. When you see a book as capably written as this, it's easy to forget how easily material like this could descend into the maudlin, moralistic, saccharine -- or just plain clunky -- in the hands an unskilled writer.

One final point: in rating this book 3 stars, I don't want to come across as if I'm damning with faint praise. I enjoyed the book, it is solidly well-written, I liked the tone and voice of it, and I would recommend it easily to my friends. Still, I don't feel like I can honestly rate it as a 4 or 5, simply because I don't really feel it ranks, for me, alongside other books I've rated that way. It was a very good book, and it falls solidly into the category of "I liked it".

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2

Mar 21, 2010

This is a topic that fascinates a lot of people--I remember reading about it in Reader's Digest when I was a little kid: identical twins, adopted into two different families, reunite as adults. The authors of this book met (first even heard that they each were a twin!) around age 35. Their parents are as shocked as the twins themselves are, and make it known that they would've happily adopted both, given the option. The twins are (initially at least)more curious about the circumstances of their This is a topic that fascinates a lot of people--I remember reading about it in Reader's Digest when I was a little kid: identical twins, adopted into two different families, reunite as adults. The authors of this book met (first even heard that they each were a twin!) around age 35. Their parents are as shocked as the twins themselves are, and make it known that they would've happily adopted both, given the option. The twins are (initially at least)more curious about the circumstances of their separation that they are about their biological lineage. They begin doing some research and realize that there are numerous sets of twins divvied up in this way. It turns out that over a period of time spanning their own births in the 1960's, some psychologists were tantalized by the opportunity to investigate the "nature vs. nurture" question by separating twins via adoption, and then following them through in-home observation and testing periodically. They simply requested of the parents (so thrilled to have adopted that they were compliant with the request)that they be permitted to visit/perform the study. The researchers withheld the true purpose of the study--they didn't tell the families that their new babies were each twins. The authors are met with much resistance as they attempt to learn more. Disturbingly, they do find some reason to believe that perhaps the heritability of mental illness was of particular interest to the researchers, and their own mental health, while decidedly not as bad as (what they come to learn about) their bio mother's, has been an issue for them. As disturbing, they find that almost all the records/files pertaining to the twin study have been sealed--many until 2021, and most until 2066, when they and ostensibly most of the twins will be closing in on 100 years of age. (And of course, none of the researchers or adoption agency employees will be alive.) The authors attempted to get the records opened, but were unsuccessful. There are quite possibly still adoptees out there in the US who are unaware that they have a twin somewhere! The authors seem (understandably) torn between righteous indignation at their separation (which, in the context of 2010, seems immoral and ill-advised to say the least)and the understanding that to have been adopted together would mean the loss of the lives that they ended up living, a thought mind-boggling and potentially hurtful to their respective families.
So, the topic of this book is incredible. But while I sympathize with the authors' plight, I couldn't help but feel that they missed the boat a bit with their handling of it. They are really intelligent, but at times very petty and insecure, which I think clouds their processing of the situation. For example, it seemed like they were more fascinated by the similarities and differences in their appearances than in their personalities. And sometimes, it seemed like they misunderstood one another as a result, and it was never clarified. For example, when they first compared weight, the married twin acknowledged that she weighed 15 lbs more, but she has a baby. The unmarried twin was hurt by this "competition." It was so obvious to me as a reader that the married twin just meant that the weight difference should be attributed to having recently carried a child, and that aside from that, they are very comparable in size/shape as you'd expect twins to be. But the offended twin took it to mean, "Sure, you are slimmer, but I have a husband and kid and you don't, so I win! Ha!" There were several petty exchanges like this.
Overall, I felt like I could have read a nice long magazine article about the facts and skipped some of the nonsense. It is another of those cases where part of me applauds the author(s) for being so candid, and another part of me is put off by what is revealed about their nature as a result. ...more
2

Jul 23, 2009

This would have been a great article in a magazine. All the interesting stuff could have fit nicely in a few pages of smallish print. But instead it was a book. The twin's voices were fairly indistinguishable to me, and neither was a very enthralling memoirist. Reading facts about the oddities twins was sort of interesting, but I'm not sure I learned anything new.
4

Aug 16, 2018

Identical twins have been a source of endless fascination for millennia. Two people who seem to share a mind, with the exact same DNA, can occupy different bodies. Many twins have such an intimate bond that they seem to read other’s thoughts and communicate in a special language. Their bond is much stronger than other siblings, having spent nine months together before birth. As identical twins age, they tend to have similar IQs, heights, and tastes. However, they may develop different skin Identical twins have been a source of endless fascination for millennia. Two people who seem to share a mind, with the exact same DNA, can occupy different bodies. Many twins have such an intimate bond that they seem to read other’s thoughts and communicate in a special language. Their bond is much stronger than other siblings, having spent nine months together before birth. As identical twins age, they tend to have similar IQs, heights, and tastes. However, they may develop different skin conditions and allergies as a response to variable environmental factors. In rare cases, identical twins have widely disparate personalities. The first twin studies, conducted by Sir Francis Galton in the 19th century, tried to find an answer to the “nature-nuture” debate (Galton advocated for the “nature” side). After horrific experiments by Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele on twins during the Second World War, ethical concerns were raised about twin studies. Today in America, twins are not separated for the purpose of experimentation, and the subjects of medical studies must be given informed consent by law.

In Identical Strangers, Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein recount how they found each other in their 30s, after being wrested from each other’s lives before their first birthday. (Not to be confused with the new documentary Three Identical Strangers, which concerns triplets who went through a similar harrowing experience.) Curiosity about their birth mother motivated them to contact the adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, at different times. After Elyse found out that she was a twin, an employee of the agency got in touch with Paula to arrange a meeting. Following an intense introduction, they found that they are both writers who went to film school, have suffered from depression, and have an adopted older brother. The new relationship has the serendipity of a romance, though Elyse comes from a less affluent, more troubled, family in Oklahoma—her adoptive mother died when she was six. She is single while Paula is married with a child. They pledge to find the truth of their early upbringing and get to know each other’s adoptive families.

The Louise Wise Services, named after the wife of Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, was an esteemed Jewish adoption agency in New York. Dr. Viola Bernard, a well-respected psychiatrist, had the weird notion that twins and triplets separated at birth would become psychologically healthier than as multiple offspring kept together. She convinced the administration of Louise Wise, which was run by New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, to put her idea into practice. Children were forcibly taken from shared cribs to be with different adoptive families. Neither the children nor the adoptive parents would be told of their sibling(s). A Freudian psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Neubauer, would supervise yearly psychological testing of the twins or triplets in their separate households. Research assistants told the families that their participation was part of a normal child development study instead of a twin study. In 1980, the media coverage of the story of the triplets separated at birth put an end to Dr. Neubauer’s research. The twins study was now considered too controversial. The work on the influence of environmental factors on people with the same genes was never published. Instead, Neubauer’s papers were donated to Yale University, and are not available to researchers until 2066, after most of the study’s unwitting participants will have passed away.

Elyse and Paula were able to find their birth record after doing a thorough vital records search for all twins born on October 9, 1968 in New York City (adoptees have two birth certificates—one with their given name, the other with their adopted name). Through their birth record, they were able to find out the name of their mother, Leda Witt, a bright woman with psychiatric problems who died in her late thirties. The twins were raised by an Irish nanny (as Jean and Marian) for the first six months of their lives. They had an uncomfortable interview with the elderly Dr. Neubauer, who does not express any remorse about the experiment, and they were able to study Dr. Viola Bernard’s papers at Columbia. By the end of this fascinating dual memoir, Elyse and Paula achieve a measure of equanimity about their tragic background.

Reviewed by David B., Librarian, InfoNow ...more
3

Nov 21, 2007

Having read several books about twins separated at birth over the past year, it was amazing to come across one from the perspective of the twins themselves, rather than the scientists who studied them. Even more so because the authors were part of the infamous study conducted by Peter Neubauer (remember him from Janet Malcolm's book about the Freud Archives?) via the Louise Wise Adoption Agency (twins were separated, adoptive families weren't informed their children were twins, and their Having read several books about twins separated at birth over the past year, it was amazing to come across one from the perspective of the twins themselves, rather than the scientists who studied them. Even more so because the authors were part of the infamous study conducted by Peter Neubauer (remember him from Janet Malcolm's book about the Freud Archives?) via the Louise Wise Adoption Agency (twins were separated, adoptive families weren't informed their children were twins, and their development was closely monitored in weekly sessions the parents never knew were comparing their child to a nearby twin: yech), the results of which have never been published. Because of their experience, the authors had access to preeminent twin researchers, including Neubauer. Their account of meeting him is chilling, as is their theory that his study was examining the hereditability of mental illness (if true, this meant adoptive parents were not informed about diseases such as schizophrenia in their children's biological family history). Minor quibbles with the prose style (present tense/back and forth), which is mostly effective, but occasionally seems to try to cram all their research into story mode. A fascinating and touching book. ...more
4

Oct 09, 2007

Like most books I read, I had heard of this one through NPR and had put it on my hold list at the library. Once again, NPR did not disappoint. While the story itself is interesting (identical twins born to an unwed mother in New York, given up for adoption and then separated at less than a year old possibly due to a nature vs. nurture study on twins) the way the book is written is what makes me like this book so much more. Both women (twins, sisters) take turns telling about each incident and Like most books I read, I had heard of this one through NPR and had put it on my hold list at the library. Once again, NPR did not disappoint. While the story itself is interesting (identical twins born to an unwed mother in New York, given up for adoption and then separated at less than a year old possibly due to a nature vs. nurture study on twins) the way the book is written is what makes me like this book so much more. Both women (twins, sisters) take turns telling about each incident and sometimes the same incident about finding and meeting each other and the struggles and joys they experience as they unravel the truth about their separation as babies. Only they themselves could tell this story in a way to draw you in and keep you by their side through the whole journey of discovery. Simply put, it is as if you are allowed to read their private journals along the way...a simple "no holds barred" of the logistics of their new life together and the true emotions they felt along the way. I know much more about twins than I thought I would come across and they are a good example about while nurture plays a role in who we are, nature's pull is very strong. ...more
4

Dec 09, 2008

Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein each grew up in good families knowing that they were adopted. But at age 35 they discovered that they were twins separated by adoption agency personnel as part of a clandestine nature-versus-nurture study. They were each writers who had studied film in college, but they were leading very different lives at the time they met. They share their stories in alternating voices, peppered with a wealth of twin lore they discovered in their quest to understand each other. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein each grew up in good families knowing that they were adopted. But at age 35 they discovered that they were twins separated by adoption agency personnel as part of a clandestine nature-versus-nurture study. They were each writers who had studied film in college, but they were leading very different lives at the time they met. They share their stories in alternating voices, peppered with a wealth of twin lore they discovered in their quest to understand each other. Their dual narratives reveal their pasts, their search for their birth mother, and the impact of their new reality with uncommon emotional honesty. ...more
3

Oct 12, 2011

Added 10/12/11.
I've recently been listening to the audio version of this book. Don't know if I will finish listening to all the discs because I have other more interesting CD's on the docket. After a while this book seems to repeat the same ideas over and over. So it lost my interest because it's slow in getting to the point. So far, the twins talk about looking into the reason they were separated (without their adopted parents' knowledge) and if the separation was the humane thing to do.
5

Oct 27, 2007

Wow, what an amazing book. You may have just seen these authors on the Today Show a couple of Fridays ago, and their book is really worth reading.

The books starts out with both women finding out they have a twin from the adoption agency they were adopted from. It continues with each woman's perspective on how they felt when they found out, what changed in their lives and such. One of the authors was very upset to learn she had a sister and a twin, she was very content in her life and hoped that Wow, what an amazing book. You may have just seen these authors on the Today Show a couple of Fridays ago, and their book is really worth reading.

The books starts out with both women finding out they have a twin from the adoption agency they were adopted from. It continues with each woman's perspective on how they felt when they found out, what changed in their lives and such. One of the authors was very upset to learn she had a sister and a twin, she was very content in her life and hoped that her twin did want her to be more than she could be to her.

The book also talks about the scientific study they were a part of (the reason for their separation), yet does not answer many questions as the notes to the research (never published) are currently at the Yale Library closed to researchers till 2066.

Any mother would like this book, also any adoptees or those looking to adopt. However, anyone can enjoy the book as it is a great story. ...more
5

Nov 03, 2018

Identical Strangers reads like a real-life detective story. It begins with a lady raised by adopted parents, Elyse Schein, who decides in her mid-thirties that she would like to learn who her biological mother is. Very early in the process of doing so she inadvertently discovers she has an identical twin sister, Paula Bernstein. The two ladies then pool their efforts and attempt to find out who their mother was and why they were separated during the adoption process in the first place. It turns Identical Strangers reads like a real-life detective story. It begins with a lady raised by adopted parents, Elyse Schein, who decides in her mid-thirties that she would like to learn who her biological mother is. Very early in the process of doing so she inadvertently discovers she has an identical twin sister, Paula Bernstein. The two ladies then pool their efforts and attempt to find out who their mother was and why they were separated during the adoption process in the first place. It turns out a number of twins up for adoption were separated as part of a nature/nurture study, the records of which are still sealed (or at least still were at the time this book was written).

There are three threads running through this book. One is their struggle to get around all of the roadblocks and dead ends that stand in the way of them finding out who their biological mother is. The second is the process of the two learning about each other and the ways in which they differ and the ways in which they are similar. Events are depicted from the point of view of one twin and then again from the point of the view of the other, a technique that more often demonstrates the differences between them than the similarities. The third is the discoveries about twins from the realms of science and psychology that are scattered throughout the book. This is a memoir so there isn't much in the way of proper citations but what is included was interesting enough to remind me that I really need to read a proper treatment on the subject someday, having seen twin studies cited in books running the gamut from psychopathy to spirituality.

One of the more captivating memoirs I have read in 2018. ...more
3

Apr 27, 2010

3 1/2 stars. Generally I liked this book. The title pretty much sums up what it's about: identical twins were separated at birth (or actually 5-6 months after birth) and found out about each other for the first time at 35. Although there is some discussion of nature vs nuture, what is and isn't genetically determined, and the impacts of environment and early trauma, it is really more about the two authors--how they found out about each other, how they reacted to the information, how their 3 1/2 stars. Generally I liked this book. The title pretty much sums up what it's about: identical twins were separated at birth (or actually 5-6 months after birth) and found out about each other for the first time at 35. Although there is some discussion of nature vs nuture, what is and isn't genetically determined, and the impacts of environment and early trauma, it is really more about the two authors--how they found out about each other, how they reacted to the information, how their relationship developed, their own reflections surrounding their past and present situation. I guess I wish it had been more nonfiction-like. Their story is interesting but I would have been more interested to learn about separated twins and nature vs nurture in general. But it's a pretty minor gripe--the writing is engaging and fun to read and they do pose really intriguing questions about genetics and personality.

Overall, if this sounds like an interesting story or if you're interested in identical twins or twin studies, I would definitely recommend it.

There were some things I found problematic, which I am now going to talk about.

Fat phobia. In addition to hearing the twins compare their weight repeatedly (with "lighter" being deemed automatically "better") there are quite a few other instances as well. Here's one sentence that just made me cringe: "It will be easier for me to tell my family about my birth mother's mental illness, which is somehow less shameful than obesity to me" (p.179). Lady...neither obesity nor mental illness is something to be ashamed of... It rankles more because (view spoiler)[the mental illness is what ended up killing their mother (or at least contributing to her death). So it's worse to be considered unattractive than it is to basically be so chemically unbalanced and unhappy that you die as a result. What a world, eh? (hide spoiler)]

Also they are continually trying to cast the doctor(s) who separated them and studied them as just super bad and ridiculously just BAD. There's one part where they quote someone saying that Dr. Bernard wasn't evil but came close. At another point they compare the twin study they were sort-of-but-not-really a part of with Josef Mengele's twin "studies." And they don't really have anything to go on besides "we're TWINS!! TWIIIINSSSS." Like that is magic or something. They never really convinced me that Dr. Bernard was doing something inherently wrong or unethical. Basically her premise was that raising twins places an extra burden on parents over raising a singleton, and being raised with a twin places certain unique burdens on the child. Disclosure: Peter is a (fraternal) twin. After talking to his mother about her experience raising them, it seems that, wow, guess what, it IS harder to raise two babies than one! Gosh darn. And talking to Peter about it, it seems that IS harder to differentiate an individual personality when you are constantly considered as part of a unit and compared to your twin. There are twins in this very book that confirm that. (Both Peter and the twins in the book also say that there are unique benefits from being a twin as well, just to be clear.) So it seems that Dr. Bernard's premise is not all that far-fetched, and if she is actually working from that assumption then what she did is completely different than what Mengele did. I mean SRSLY LADIES?? I get it that you are upset about being separated (or are you? you can't really seem to decide) but those comparisons and the whole "Dr. Bernard, Dr. Neubauer, so mean and wrong and dumb and wrong and MEAN!!!" just didn't resonate with me. It seemed over the top. You could definitely make the argument that it was harmful or unethical, or that at least would have been better if you had been kept together. But the thing is, they didn't present any evidence at all that it was harmful in general or had harmed them. In fact they both express contentment and relief (or something like it) at having been raised apart. So... um... yeah. All that "OMG EVIL DOCTORS SEPARATING TWINS" seemed somewhat out of place.

Also: "Dr. Bernard asserted [...] that there was no definitive scientific information about the heritability of schizophrenia. But articles in her file prove otherwise. One 1953 study among her papers found a significantly higher incidence of schizophrenia among the relatives of schizophrenics than in the general population" (p. 197). Er...One study? How big was the sample size? How were they selected? What other factors could contribute to the onset of schizophrenia? If the researchers were operating under the assumption that environment trumps genetics, noting that schizophrenia run in families doesn't necessarily discount environmental considerations. Maybe these families all share similar child rearing techniques that trigger schizophrenia. "One 1953 study" is hardly definitive scientific information--it could have been a study of three families that relied on self-reporting--the book doesn't say. So it hardly "proves" that she was perjuring herself or lying to further her evil baby-snatching-and-separating cause.

Anyway... I really did (mostly) enjoy it! ;) ...more
5

Dec 12, 2018

Wow,what an amazing story. I saw these two women interviewed as a part of the documentary "Three Identical Strangers", but the full story of these two women was equally fascinating. The people they get to meet during their search for their history - terrific.
4

Aug 14, 2017

A compelling story of two identical twins separated at birth and never told about it by the adoption agency, which has since gone out of business. When the twins finally meet, it's interesting how they sound each other out, and each has expectations of the other that are not met. To me, the most interesting part was the agency's allowing a relatively secret personality survey to be ongoingly conducted. It turns out that one thing the psychologists were testing was the heritability of A compelling story of two identical twins separated at birth and never told about it by the adoption agency, which has since gone out of business. When the twins finally meet, it's interesting how they sound each other out, and each has expectations of the other that are not met. To me, the most interesting part was the agency's allowing a relatively secret personality survey to be ongoingly conducted. It turns out that one thing the psychologists were testing was the heritability of schizophrenia, among other mental disorders, and both twins were justifiably furious that this had been done without their consent, and not only that, but trying to find the results of the unpublished study were blocked and hindered at every turn. Shades of Joseph Mengele: very presumptuous and arrogant.

The twins finally find a photo of their late mother and contact a girlfriend of hers from high school, who tells them what she was like. After several rude rejections by their blood uncle, he finally allows them to meet him and show him where their mother was born and the mental hospital in which she spent much of her life, and then appears to want nothing further to do with them. At the end of the book, they show the high school graduation photo of their mother. She sort of looks like Annette Funicello just after her Mouseketeer days. So it's somewhat of a happy ending, although the twins squabble a lot with each other because each thinks the other should be more like herself. ...more
4

Oct 02, 2007

I found this book very interesting.I don't have any close friends who are twins or even good friends who are adopted so the subject matter was one that was fascinating. The book is written by two identical twin sisters who were separated within the first few months of life and adopted into separate families. As they both begin to separately search for their birth records around the age of 35 they discover they had a twin. In the course of doing research on their past they also discover they were I found this book very interesting.I don't have any close friends who are twins or even good friends who are adopted so the subject matter was one that was fascinating. The book is written by two identical twin sisters who were separated within the first few months of life and adopted into separate families. As they both begin to separately search for their birth records around the age of 35 they discover they had a twin. In the course of doing research on their past they also discover they were part of an unusual research project that seprarated infant twins in an effort to cause them to thrive more.(this is all on the book jacket!)I liked the book for many reasons, I had never considered the psychological aspects of what it would be like to be an identical twin and it was fascinating to read how it felt to for the sisters to find another one of themselves in the universe. It was wonderful but sometimes uncomfortable to know that they were not as unique that they imagined. The only thing I didn't like was the way the book rambled a bit, and this could be because it was written in a style that the conversation shifted back and forth between each twin's perspective of the events. But it was minor. I would recommend the book. ...more
5

Jun 05, 2008

I am so glad to be done with this since I have not been able to get anything else done since I started it. Fascinating! Identical Strangers is about twin girls separated at birth and given up for adoption. They are united at age 35 and begin the quest to discover who they are and why they were separately adopted in the first place. This book share lots of information on twins, the strong influence of genetics, adoption and mental illness. Told as a narrative, each twin shares personal thoughts I am so glad to be done with this since I have not been able to get anything else done since I started it. Fascinating! Identical Strangers is about twin girls separated at birth and given up for adoption. They are united at age 35 and begin the quest to discover who they are and why they were separately adopted in the first place. This book share lots of information on twins, the strong influence of genetics, adoption and mental illness. Told as a narrative, each twin shares personal thoughts and impressions allowing the reader to get a sneak peak into their lives now and what they grew up missing, thinking and experiencing. The book includes pictures of them as children and adults. Originally, I had heard about this on Sunday Morning the news show and so am delighted to know "the rest of the story." Anyone with twins, or who has adopted a child would find this intriguing. The rest of us can enjoy it as voyeurs into a world that is hard to imagine... ...more
4

Sep 23, 2007

This is the story of two women adopted as infants, who, at age 35, discover they are identical twins. The book alternates between the twins' voices and is a really captivating read. It is interesting to read about the women's journey and shocking to find out how and why they were separated. I also really appreciated their honesty throughout the book.

At times I found the writing a little uneven, but the voices are so strong and the story so compelling that it was hard for me to put down this This is the story of two women adopted as infants, who, at age 35, discover they are identical twins. The book alternates between the twins' voices and is a really captivating read. It is interesting to read about the women's journey and shocking to find out how and why they were separated. I also really appreciated their honesty throughout the book.

At times I found the writing a little uneven, but the voices are so strong and the story so compelling that it was hard for me to put down this book. ...more
4

Nov 22, 2015

For anyone who has a connection to the adoption process, this book adds insight to the experience of the adoptee. Beyond that, the issue of twins arbitrarily separated at placement to study the inheritability of mental illness or the effect of parenting, is mind boggling.
2

Sep 01, 2008

Amazing how different the world was in the 1960s. I hope we would never do to children today what these girls experienced at the hands of adults who claimed it was in their best interest.
3

Jul 25, 2018

We went to see the documentary Three Identical Strangers (moviepass FTW at least as far as air conditioning in a heat wave goes) and it was
1) gripping and
2) successfully manipulative and
3) left us with more questions than answers.

So JRB and I went home and started digging and discovered that it also
4) not only ignored but in some cases actually erased any women involved, and also appeared to
5) present some major inaccuracies and
6) makes me extremely frustrated now that I know a little We went to see the documentary Three Identical Strangers (moviepass FTW at least as far as air conditioning in a heat wave goes) and it was
1) gripping and
2) successfully manipulative and
3) left us with more questions than answers.

So JRB and I went home and started digging and discovered that it also
4) not only ignored but in some cases actually erased any women involved, and also appeared to
5) present some major inaccuracies and
6) makes me extremely frustrated now that I know a little more!

Like, here's a lot of time spent on the dads involved and their parenting styles, but the mothers' parenting styles weren't mentioned although they would presumably have done most of the childcare? Neither were the sisters (in an ama on reddit, Wardle said there just wasn't time for them - https://www.reddit.com/r/movies/comme...). That seems especially relevant because Wardle suggests that the study was about parenting styles and reminds us that each boy had an older sister adopted three years prior at Louise Wise... which implies that the sisters were also studied in order to determine environment and parenting styles.

So anyway, I requested this book, which was published ten years ago by two of the twins who were also separated at birth as part of the same Louise Wise study. (They appeared very briefly in a clip from a talk show in the documentary.) Paula and Elyse discovered each other's existence in their early 30s in the early 2000s, and started digging to find out whatever they could about what had happened and why.

TBH, I found their voices to be a little annoying to read, and their casual fatphobia to be exhausting. But it was still a fascinating read and counterpoint to the movie.

And it turns out:

- Although the movie focuses solely on Dr Neubauer, the study was conceptualized and led by a woman, Viola Barnard. Her files are also under lock and key, but only until 2021. I don't recall her actually being mentioned in the film at all.

- Elyse and Paula actually got to interview Neubauer before he died. Although one of the grad students who worked on the study said that he didn't think it had to do with mental illness and that it was instead only about parenting styles, what Neubauer said in their interview strongly suggests that it *was* about the inheritability of mental illness.

- Although Lawrence Wright was the first to mention the study in the New Yorker in 1995, the details of the story were broken by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Stephanie Saul in 1997. (Not dissing Wright and his research here... but maybe ignoring Stephanie Saul wasn't necessary?)

- Filmmaker Lori Shinseki started (and finished) a documentary called The Twinning Reaction about this exact same subject before Tim Wardle did, though hers wasn't picked up for huge mainstream distribution. (https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/the...)


...more
4

Jul 21, 2019

Very interesting to me as an adoptee. It would be difficult to learn I had a twin as an adult, and this book proves how challenging it would be to accept that and then how you'd incorporate that into your live. Along with that challenge, these two learned they were part of a "twin study" and purposely separated and studied, as were several other twins. This causes a lot of ups and downs within each twin as well as within their relationship with each other. If the other reacts differently than Very interesting to me as an adoptee. It would be difficult to learn I had a twin as an adult, and this book proves how challenging it would be to accept that and then how you'd incorporate that into your live. Along with that challenge, these two learned they were part of a "twin study" and purposely separated and studied, as were several other twins. This causes a lot of ups and downs within each twin as well as within their relationship with each other. If the other reacts differently than you do, it causes friction, especially when you're investigating what has happened to your biological mother, and if there were any records of the study you were a part of.
There is a lot of conflict in this book between the twins which is very normal and very real. ...more

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