Wednesday 2 July 2008

Half of Two

Lots of time to enter BAFAB - it always surprises me that over a hundred people popped by today, and not all of them want a free book! Do head over to Jenny's BAFAB draw, too. Oh, free books. Gotta love 'em! If you can't use the comments thing on Blogger, email me at, and I'll put your name in that way.

As promised, going to chat about Identical Strangers today. I bought it in Kensington on Saturday, and it leapt right to the top of my tbr pile. I love it when a book comes along which is impossible to resist...

Identical Strangers is non-fiction, by and about Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein. They were both adopted from Louise Wise Services, but it wasn't until Elyse was 35 and contacted the adoption service for nonidentifying information about her birth mother that she discovered... she is an identical twin. Paula was equally astonished when she got a 'phone call : "I've got some news for you. I hate to dum
p this on you, but you've got a twin." Paula tries to 'phone back the director of post-adoption services... and accidentally calls the number for her twin sister. They speak for the first time at 35.

I, as you may know, am absolutely fascinated by twins - in fact and fiction. And I am a twin myself, which accelerates my interest. Even without this predilection for twin literature, I think anyone would be intrigued, moved and compelled by Identical Strangers. Paula and Elyse tell their narratives in distinct paragraphs, alternately headed by their names, and it helps that both have been or are professional film reviewers, and are talented writers. They talk us through the experience of discovering that they are twins, and the first times they speak, and meet. This would be really interesting in fiction, but in non-fiction it is enthralling and honest. Paula is married with a child, and unsure that she wants to add to her family - Elyse, who is single and started the search, can't understand why Paula isn't as excited as she is herself. All sorts of issues about identity and self are reared - they both find it difficult to see their own mannerisms in the other (and think them exaggerated), and begin to feel possessive about their characteristics.

Alongside their journey, they've done some impressive research, and present it well. There are other examples of separated twins; theories on nature/nurture; how twins differ from 'normal' siblings. I lap all this stuff up - though, as usual, as a dizygotic /non-identical/fraternal twin, I'm rather sidelined. We're always seen as something rather insignificant in comparison to identical twins... Colin aka
The Carbon Copy isn't a carbon copy really, you see, though we look similar enough that people still mix us up. Being a twin, I can understand their anger at being separated - and I can't imagine how any child psychologists believed it was the accurate choice to make. Apparently some people believed being a twin was a "burden to the child and parents"... seething doesn't begin to cover it. What would my life be like without having grown up with Col? I don't want to think.

We follow Paula and Elyse through a couple of years - the joy, the excitement, the bickering, the discovering of their extraordinary relationship. A driving force of this book is their quest to find answers to questions - why were they separated? Why weren't their respective adoptive parents told that they were twins? Who idea was it, and what were the theories behind separation? And then they begin trying to locate their birth mother.

A fascinating topic, well told by engaging, honest people experiencing a rollercoaster of events. Do go and check it out.


  1. Simon, I read this right at the end of 2007 and really, really liked it. It moved very quickly I thought, helped by the 'mystery' involved, and I was overwhelmed by the last portion of the book. After I read it I watched some videos of the sisters together. Amazing stuff. Oh, wanted to mention that my cousin is Jewish and grew up just outside NYC. I suspect he was adopted via the same agency as these sisters. Sadly, he suffers from mental illness which perhaps was passed on and his adoptive parents were not told about.

  2. How strange that they decided to separate identical twins--I can't imagine that would be benficial for them. What year were they adopted? 35 years ago doesn't seem all that long ago, but maybe this sort of thinking was still going on in the 70s. Surely agencies don't do that sort of thing now. Perhaps they thought it would be easier to adopt one child rather than a pair? It is a fascinating topic, though.

  3. There is an interview with the two ladies at

    they were recently on BBC radio 4.

    We are pleased, Si, that we didn't separate you and the CC!

  4. Danielle - it's illegal now for adoption services to separate twins, I believe, or even siblings. Thank goodness someone saw the light!

    The photo of them on the backcover makes them look very dissimilar - but look at them on youtube (OV's link may not work, but thanks Dad! Youtube 'Elyse Paula' and I think it'll turn up) - and they are certainly identical.

  5. I love it when that happens with a book too... You may have a huge TBR pile but a new one all of a sudden takes all your interest.
    I cannot imagine the roller coaster of emotions they must have felt (still feeling). Sounds like a fascinating book and how neat that they also pursued similar careers.

  6. I take it all back! The link works fine :-)

  7. The link problem is due, I believe, to Dad's comment overlapping with the comment panel. It should read and hopefully this will work):

    And yes, twins are great. Like I always tell people, my Dad and I are twins.


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