Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited, by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, is an amazing book in many ways. The memoir is the story of twins separated at birth, and of their reunion decades later. Twins are fascinating to most people, the concept of sameness is intriguing, and this memoir enhances that perspective, defining what it means to be a twin through a unique perspective.
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein both knew that they had been adopted. Neither one knew they were twins. Elyse wanted to learn about her mother, while Paula had no desire to know her. The book details, in alternating voices, how both women have had to overcome their separation and try to accept their sameness and their differences, accept the fact they are twins, sisters, family members, reunited. Their awkward transition into sisterhood and extended family is written with clarity, and truthfulness. To be twins is one thing, and to be separated through adoption is another thing, to be both is to ponder the idea of identity and family.
It was appalling to read how Paula and Elyse were separated, and how the adoption agency, along with psychologists sided together to manipulate the system and their very lives. The insensitivity is incredulous.
We hear their differing, yet similar, voices evoke the emotional impact that their reunion has made upon their lives, as separate individuals, and as twins…duplicates of each other. We are witness to their doubts, fears, joys, and their capacity to try to adapt and join their lives together.
We are also given insight into how finding information out about their birth-mother has affected them. We see how they view the definition of “parent“, how they define a parent, and who they consider a parent to be. We question how nature and nurture affects us, and are we a product of one or the other, or both.
Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited is relevant and compelling on so many levels. It leaves one to question parentage, bloodlines, familial bonds, adoption, what it means to be a twin, and the imprints left on our lives by birth, circumstance, environment, relationships and DNA. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein bring us a memoir that is poignant and thought-provoking in its honesty. It is a book not to be missed.
I read Identical Strangers in one sitting, while in a book store, unable to put it back on the bookshelf until I had finished it.