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Her: A Memoir Hardcover – March 5, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 251 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: Brave, raw, and ultimately uplifting, Christa Parravani’s debut memoir unbraids the memory of her life from her identical twin, Cara, who died of an overdose at age 28. Cara had been the larger, hungrier twin since birth, but they both emerged from a chaotic childhood to become magnetic and creatively precocious. Cara claimed writing as her territory, so Christa took pictures. They married young but remained more devoted to each other than their spouses. Then in 2001, Cara was viciously raped while walking her dog in a park. She survived, but she was deeply damaged, physically and psychologically. Christa tried for years to restore her, and after Cara’s death, she felt as if she became her sister. She heard Cara’s voice as her own, saw Cara staring back at her from mirrors-in warning, and also as an invitation to tear apart her life “just as she’d shredded her own.” Such hallucinations are a common delusion among the newly twinless: “they become a breathing memorial for their lost half,” and half of them die within the first two years. Told in part in the voice of her lost sister, Her is the story of how Christa clawed her way back from this gulf of grief and gave herself permission to live. --Mari Malcolm

Amazon Exclusive: Alexandra Fuller Interviews Christa Parravani

Alexandra Fuller
Christa Parravani

Alexandra Fuller: On one level, this memoir is about the shocking connectivity of being an identical twin and what happens when you tragically lose your twin. But on another level, it feels like a classic coming-of-age story with the most awful twist imaginable: you were unable to grow up and become a fully realized version of yourself until your sister died. Does this feel true?

Christa Parravani: It was nearly comfortable sharing an identity with Cara, almost fulfilling. It's difficult to imagine now how we tolerated bartering our individualities for closeness with each other. But it was simple at first: I liked chocolate ice cream, so Cara liked vanilla. I wore pink; Cara wore blue. Then adult desires complicated our agreement. Cara wanted to be a writer, and I did too. When we both married, room needed to be made for our husbands. Being adults meant moving away from each other, but twinship impaired our abilities to move up and out in the world. If my attention was diverted from Cara, I felt I was being unfaithful to her.

Now I see my life as divided in half: before and after Cara. The hardest years after Cara's death were full of unimaginable grief. I couldn't believe that I could live while she had died. Twins were supposed to have the same fate, the same experiences. I simply didn't know how to go on without her. I looked in the mirror and saw her staring back at me. I'd laugh and hear her. And those kinds of experiences began to define me as much as my life with her ever had, even more so. I look at what has become of me: I'm a happy wife to a loving and brilliant husband. I'm a mother to a sweet baby girl. I'm a survivor. It's probably hard to believe, but I would relive every painful moment again to have what I do now: my own separate life.

AF: Your story is wonderfully layered, and the layering is almost always expressed as either a kind of sublime twin scenario (a magically connecting experience) or as a duality (a horribly alienating experience). As the story progressed, I found myself seeing ways in which you and Cara often seem to be leading a dark double life beneath that already double life of your twinship. Do you think you felt less lonely in those dark places because you could act as companions and guides into your private underworld?

CP: There was nothing we didn't share, including the proclivity for dark behavior. It was programmed into us from our childhood, from what we'd seen in our home. Neither of us understood yet that we could control those impulses, and we'd act out blindly. There was a lot of shame because of that, and we'd bounce it back and forth. We embraced each other at the same time we pushed each other down. We truly were ransom holders with each other's secrets--scorekeepers, always threatening to leave the other or tell on them. But there was also safety in that, a place to return where we knew we'd be understood.

AF: In spite of the fact that your sister dies from her drug addiction, it seems almost a secondary theme in the book. I come back to the question of layering. What you seem to be saying is that Cara didn't die of a drug overdose, so much as from an aversion to the awful pain she was in. It's a refreshingly nuanced take on addiction. Was it important for you to steer clear of judgment? Was this something that came with writing?

CP: While Cara was alive, I was judgmental. I wanted to shake her until she agreed to stop taking pills and heroin. I knew they would kill her. It was difficult not to pass judgment as I watched her blot herself out. As a writer though, it wasn't my place to pass judgment. That never accomplishes much good in writing. Drugs were clearly my second rival. Cara's pain and trauma took her first. They were the primary things in the way, the cloak over her. If I was going to try and get to the root of my sister's troubles in Her, I needed to go deeper. That meant trying to parse out the reasons for her drug use instead of laying blame.

AF: Your relationship with Cara was so exclusive, so seemingly mysterious that even your mother is unable to insert herself between you. And after her death, Cara still comes to you, or is with you (in your imagination, in your dreams, and in psychic readings) as the primary force in your life. Did writing this book change your relationship with Cara?

CP: I often had the feeling while writing that Cara was with me. Writing Her was a way of being with Cara again. I found that the more time I spent writing, the less I grieved in my daily life. I needed her to haunt me, to still be there. So I mimicked her behavior to try and bring her closer to me. I created her ghost in my own flesh. After Cara died, we were even more enmeshed than when she was alive. But then something really surprising happened: The closer I came to Cara in writing, the farther away from her I was in my life. It was a magical experience, really. I felt like we were getting to know each other again, talking things over. By writing, I was able to have this fantastic relationship with my sister. In some ways, it was a healthier relationship than the one I had with her while she was alive.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Few of us see ourselves in a living reflection, knowing “me” literally and figuratively through “her.” Cara and Christa Parravani were inseparable, identical twins bonded by a ferocious love that protected them against an abusive father, a militaristic stand-in dad, sour romantic relationships, and sometimes even each other. “We knew who we were: We were best friends. We were enemies. We were all we had.” Cara’s violent rape, hardcore drug addiction, and personality disorder frame the book’s primary trauma, but are, perhaps, trumped by Christa’s struggle to survive when half of her—Cara—dies. At the very least a memoir, Her is more an homage, a form of therapy, and a declaration of independence from an unsustainable survivor’s guilt. Concise and captivating, Parravani’s prose paints her phoenix-like transformation such that the reader feels the flames of her fire. A poignant, book-arcing metaphor illustrates Christa’s battle to accept herself without a mirror image. Initially a photographer, Parravani captured her observations and her twin with pictures. Years after Cara’s death, in a final attempt to claw free from depression, she writes. No longer a passive watcher of her own life, Christa authors this twin’s memoir, and thus her future. Raw and unstoppable, Her illuminates the triumph of the human spirit—both individual and shared. --Katharine Fronk

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st Printing edition (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805096531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805096538
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on February 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Once again I find myself struggling with the "star" rating system required for these reviews. It is a very similar problem to the thumbs up "like" system used on Facebook. When something posted is very important but very grim, to say "like" seems rather inappropriate. Christa Parravani's searing memoir focused on the brutal rape, subsequent personality dissolution and drug addiction, and eventual death of her twin Cara is heart rending to begin with. Christa's near self-destruction in the aftermath is even more so. This story is brilliantly told and completely absorbing, but not for the squeamish. It is also horrifying to contemplate the types of abuse, both in the childhood and subsequent adult lives of Cara and Christa, which set the stage for the tragedies they experienced and their reactions to these events.

I only occasionally comment on the cover design of books, because in general I don't believe they really reflect the content effectively. However, since the cover here is in fact one of Christa's own photographs of herself and Cara, I find it brilliant and powerful. It causes me to wish that perhaps there were a few more of these images included in the text itself. Still, Christa's word images are as sharp and vivid as her photography must be.

Some parts of the story seemed to me to be disoriented and confusing, but I decided that this was probably an honest representation of the author's mental state at the time. It is likely a reflection of my own perspective that I was concerned about such things as the sequencing of various overseas trips and hospitalizations, or the encounters with various boyfriends or lovers.

In any event, this is a book that I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
HER is a tragic story of identical twins torn apart first by a rape and then by death. This is a surprisingly intimate memoir. Christa Parravani isn't keeping many secrets, and the line between herself and her sister Cara is almost nonexistent. She shares deeply personal information about both of them in equal measures. Excerpts from Cara's private writings are scattered throughout the book, including her written account of the rape that destroyed her.

The author's twin sister Cara was a vivacious, mischievous, confident young woman. She expected good things to happen to her, so much so that when she entered the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, she tied balloons to their mailbox so Ed McMahon would be able to find their house when she won. Everything changed for Cara in her early twenties, when she was raped in such a hideous way that she lost her former self completely. She turned to drug abuse and other risky behaviors, and died five years later from an accidental overdose.

Having an identical twin is about as close as you can get to having a second self. Christa and Cara were even closer than most identical twins. They slept back to back in the same bed all through childhood, roomed together in college, and even invaded each other's marriages with a sort of jealous possessiveness. When Christa lost Cara, she could not tolerate being twinless. She set off on a self-destructive path similar to Cara's, starving herself down to 85 lbs. and becoming addicted to pills.

There's not a lot of joy here, but Christa Parravani's writing is remarkably clear-eyed and balanced. She shares the depths of her despair and self-abuse without straying into melodrama or assigning blame.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have identical twin boys and I will confess I find anything that has to do with twins, especially a book from their point of view, interesting. This book is not what I expected and it is more than what I expected. This is an intimate look at one twin's survival after losing her twin, her other half after her death.

The first part of the book deals with their growing up, their parents' marriage and Christa's comparing of themselves, whereas Cara is always the bigger twin, the prettier twin and so on. The two sisters' lives are entwined even after their marriage. All it took was one afternoon where their lives spiraled out of control. That leads into the second part of the book where Christa writes of fierce honesty about the trauma, the confusion and of the darkness that has invaded their lives.

Throughout the entire book, Christa writes honestly and sometimes, with a brutal intensity of what it was like not just to be a twin, but being a sister lost in the whirlwind of grief. It is not an easy read and it is hard book to read without flinching. Christa writes of twinship and finding herself in the aftermath in such a way that you can just feel her pain, her confusion and the grief. It is as if she had to write to get through to the basic lesson we humans all have had to learn ... survive in order to live.

Did I learn more about what it is like to be a twin? Not any more than I have read in other books and not any more than what I have observed with my sons. However, I did learn that there are some writers out there that just cannot be contained among pages. This is one talent that I would like to see more of.

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