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

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  2,322 Ratings  ·  465 Reviews

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 marr

Hardcover, 266 pages
Published October 2nd 2007 by Random House (first published 2007)
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Petra Eggs
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
Dec 24, 2007 Lynne rated it it was ok
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 wor ...more
Mar 10, 2008 Arryn rated it really liked it
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, ma ...more
Feb 24, 2008 Linda rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those intrigued by the subject matter, or looking for an interesting & fairly speedy nonfiction read
Shelves: non-fiction
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 regardin ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Kate rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Nov 21, 2007 Selene rated it liked it
Recommends it for: reformed Freudians
Shelves: dec07
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 develop ...more
Oct 09, 2007 Jen rated it really liked it
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 so ...more
Jan 15, 2011 Virginia rated it really liked it
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
Apr 27, 2010 Paige rated it liked it
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 relati ...more
Oct 02, 2007 Tena rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Kristy Isla
Oct 27, 2007 Kristy Isla rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Moms of Twins, Adoptees
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
Jun 05, 2008 Nancy rated it it was amazing
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 a ...more
Sep 23, 2007 Laurie rated it really liked it
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 boo
Joy H.
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.
Nov 22, 2015 Cheryl rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 01, 2008 Carrie rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 28, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it
This is the story of identical twin girls who were separated by an adoption agency and involved in a study of the differences between genetics and environment. It is difficult to see how such a study would be allowed, but it was mistakenly believed that families suffered from having twins and the girls were adopted without their adoptive parents realizing that they were twins.

The book is really a memoir of their experiences as they learned about each other accompanied by studies on the effects o
Apr 09, 2010 Glenn rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I am an identical twin so I had a definite interest in the subject matter. I've heard of identical twin brothers who were adopted by different parents when they were 5 days old, so were raised separately. They both became firemen in New Jersey and were reunited in their early thirties after one of them was mistaken for the other at a firemen's convention. They had surprising similarities that could only be explained by nature.

Besides both becoming firefighters, they each had a loud, staccato-lik
Mar 20, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mary by: Jean Templeton
I read this book, not only because it came highly recommended from my mom, but also because I enjoyed Ann Fessler's book The Girls Who Went Away so much. Fessler's book begins to remove the shroud of silence that was the hallmark of out-of-wedlock births in America for decades and is told, despite Fessler being an adoptee, from the perspective of birth mothers.

Identical Strangers is the other side, told from the perspective of the adoptees, identical twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein who d
Mar 23, 2008 Shifra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-for-thought
I couldn't put this book down. It was a wonderful combination of a really interesting story, reflections on identity and nature/ nurture from a personal perspective, background info about identical twins, and more. It was well written and accessible, and facinating. I appreciated their alternating voices and perspectives, and their introspection and candor. It fed both my brain and heart.

I have a number of identical twins in my life (I gave the book to one of them for her birthday), a number of
Barb Wild
Jun 23, 2015 Barb Wild rated it it was amazing
Identical Strangers is right up my ally. I am an identical twin that was also adopted but I was adopted with my twin. Alot of how you were raised about adoption makes a huge difference. My parents always told us about our adoption and how we were chosen. I always loved being an identical twin. The two sisters that are reunited in Identical Strangers find it exciting to meet each other and share characteristics. Elyse seems more interested at times and wants to have that twin bond. They seem to l ...more
Mar 31, 2008 Beverly rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book ( I read it in 2 days, I couldn't put it down!) I was intrigued by their story, but really found all the data and scientific facts about identical twins fascinating! (Probably because I have identical twins) The fact that these "scientists" can do something like this and not have any guilt or legal ramifications is absolutely baffling to me. It seems that noone who was actually involved with the separating of these multiples has a moral compass! I agree with a friend's ...more
Apr 16, 2012 Julie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Julie by: Books on the Nightstand podcast
I recently started listening to the Books on the Nightstand podcast, and I've been going through the back catalog of episodes, in addition to listening to current ones. Michael Kindness talked about this book in one of the early episodes in 2008. It sounded intriguing to me, so I requested it from the library. What a fascinating book! It is the story of twins, separated shortly after birth, who meet for the first time when in their early thirties. The best part of this book is that they both alt ...more
Julie Ehlers
Definitely a lot of interesting stuff here about nature vs. nurture and the Louise Wise Twin Study, but I wasn't really moved by these twins' own story. I think perhaps their writing style/experience isn't suited to memoir. Paula's sections were a little better; Elyse's writing was extremely self-absorbed.

The idea that twins who grow up apart are more alike because they don't need to differentiate themselves from each other was interesting. But, perhaps because I'm an identical twin myself, I di
Sep 17, 2007 Bree rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007, memoirs
I'm not sure yet if I'm giving up on it or not - but for now I've put it to the side to read something a bit lighter. This book is very dry...I was hoping it would be really emotional and make my heart ache for what they went through...but I'm struggling with it. Sooo much facts, which are interesting and yet boring at the same time...and they seem to be repeating themselves a lot. I'm not quite halfway through and just don't know if it's going to be worth finishing...

Update: Alright, I finished
Jul 05, 2012 Amy rated it liked it
Having found out as an adult that I had an adopted sister, and finding her and seeing how similar and different we are, I've been a bit fascinated by nature versus nurture stories. The story that these women share is fascinating. Knowing that they were adopted, but not that they were separated from a twin, and the loss that they felt at different times in their lives, really makes the actions to separate them in the name of science seem despicable. Their story is told beautifully, with the alter ...more
May 08, 2008 Rtb rated it really liked it
Absolutely gripping and very well-written. As someone (one, I am sure, of many) who occasionally fantasized about having a long-lost identical twin, the soul mate who could understand me the way no one in my life seemed able to, I realized that in reality things are much more complicated. This was a big hit with my book club. Only complaint: not enough about that fascinating party that was mentioned early on....
Jenn Swanson
This is a book about two women who find out that they were twins that were separated when they were little and were adopted by two different families. They don't discover this until they are adults. Then the book goes into detail on how they try to locate their birth mother and try to find the meaning of why they were separated to begin with. This was a book that was hard for me to put down. If you are looking for an interesting read then I would suggest this book.
I liked it overall, although I had a bit of difficulty keeping the voices straight if I skimmed past the all-caps indicator of who was talking. I also admit I found the "she's 15 pounds heavier than me!"/"I'm 15 pounds heavier than her!" bits/references to be a few too many.

Also, oddly, even though they both claimed to love the other, it didn't feel entirely genuine - at least in this narrative.
Jul 23, 2009 Therese rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
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.
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Elyse Schein is a writer and filmmaker whose short films "Je Vole Le Bonheur" and "Private Dick" have been shown at the Telluride Film Festival and at cinemas in Prague and San Francisco. A graduate of Stony Brook University, she studied film at FAMU, Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts. She has also worked as an English teacher, photographer, and translator. Schein lives ...more
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“Throughout my life, I have always felt torn between my dual contradictory natures. I'm the obedient daughter and devoted friend, but also a self-destructive rebel. I thrive on structure and treasure spontaneity. I am smart, but ignorant. Depressed, but optimistic. Confident but insecure. I have often asked myself which "me" is the true version.” 2 likes
“I am an insecure egotist. I am better than the world and not worthy of the world all at once.” 1 likes
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