Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 312 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.7 in
Published: October 14, 2008
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0812975650
ISBN - 13: 9780812975659
About the Book
Schein and Bernstein learned as adults that not only were they identical twins and separated at birth through adoption, but they were also part of a secret study on separated twins. This is the amazing story of two women coming to terms with the strange and unbelievable hand fate has dealt them.
Read from the Book
IDENTICAL STRANGERS from CHAPTER ONE ELYSE: My mother, my adoptive mother, my real mother, died when I was six, but throughout my childhood I believed she watched over me from above. I held the few images that remained of her in my mind like precious photographs I could animate at will. In one, she sat before her dressing table, lining her charcoal eyes, preparing to go out with my dad one Saturday night. The scent of her Chanel No. 5 is enchanting. I can still see her. She catches a glimpse of me in the mirror and smiles at me, standing in the doorway in my pajamas. With her raven hair, she looks like Snow White. Then, after her death, she seemed to simply disappear, like a princess banished to some far-away kingdom. I believed that from that kingdom, she granted me magical powers. When I jumped rope better than the other girls in my Long Island neighborhood, I knew it was because my mother was with me. When I went out fishing with my dad and brother, my mother helped me haul in the catch of the day. By sheer concentration, I could summon her force so that my frog won the neighborhood race. Since I wasn’t allowed to attend my mother’s funeral, her death remained a mystery to me. When other kids asked how she had died, I confidently announced that she had had a backache. I later learned that her back problems had been caused by the cancer invading her spine. Along with my mother’s absence came an awareness of my own presence. I remember standing in complete
From the Publisher
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:
Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award
“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
“[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)
“[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.”
“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, author of You’re Wearing That?
About the Author
Elyse Schein is a writer and filmmaker. Her short films “I Steal Happiness” 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 in Brooklyn.
Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, New York, The Village Voice, and Redbook, among other publications. Formerly a reporter at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Bernstein has also been a regular contributor to CNN. A graduate of Wellesley College, she has a master’s degree in cinema studies from New York University. Bernstein lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Identical Strangers delves into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. What conclusions does the book draw, if any? Has it changed the way you view the issue?
2. Paula and Elyse discuss the ways in which twins receive special attention in our society. Do you think twins have a special relationship? Why or why not would you want to be a twin?
3. Viola Bernard felt certain that twins would develop better senses of identity if they were raised separately. Even if you don’t agree with her, do you think there is any validity to her claim?
4. “Thank God she is not my carbon copy” (p. 51). When they ﬁrst meet as adults, Paula and Elyse are both relieved that they are not exactly identical in appearance or personality. How do you think you would react meeting your double for the ﬁrst time?
5. Paula and Elyse each deal with the news of discovering she has an identical twin differently. How do you think you would react if you were in their situation?
6. “Once we separate today, I worry that my twin will vanish again” (p. 68), Paula writes after their ﬁrst meeting. Soon after, she writes “I sometimes wish that [Elyse] hadn’t found me” (p. 128). Can you understand Paula’s ambivalence about her relationship with Elyse?
7. “I would like a better word to describe my relationship to Leda,” writes Elyse. “Suddenly it occurs to me that Leda is not my mother, she is our mother” (p. 244). Do you think there is an adequate word to describe the sisters’ relationship to Leda?
8. Mr. Witt seems reluctant to meet with Paula and Elyse. Can you understand his hesitance? Do you consider him to be their “uncle”?
9. Has Identical Strangers changed your views on adoption? If so, how?
10. Were you surprised by how well Paula and Elyse’s families got along when they met? How do you imagine you’d react if you found out your adopted child was a twin? What action would you take, if any?
11. Project into the future. How do you think Paula and Elyse’s relationship will develop after the story ends?