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Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited Hardcover – October 2, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 154 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this transfixing memoir, Bernstein, a freelance writer, and Schein, a filmmaker, take turns recounting the story of how each woman, at age 35, discovered she had an identical twin sister, and the reunion that followed. Despite disparate upbringings, education and work experiences, the twins share matching wild hand gestures, allergies, speech patterns and a penchant for the same art movies. Louise Wise Services, the adoption agency, will reveal only that their biological mother was schizophrenic and unaware of who their father was. Records of the study the agency conducted about them are sealed, so the authors spearhead their own research project by poring over birth records, tracking down their birth mother's brother and interviewing researchers, who claim that twins raised apart are more similar than those raised together. Much of the book is devoted to fascinating stories of other twins and triplets who, when reunited as adults, are shocked by how much they have in common with one another. Bernstein and Schein's relationship becomes extremely close and also fraught with expectation. Once you find someone, Bernstein writes, you can't unfind her. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064960
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,518,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Half way through "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited" by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, one twin asks the other: "If your family had raised me and mine had raised you, would I be you and would you be me?" By the end of the book, the reader clearly understands the answer is "no." It is worth reading the whole book to find out why. But a far more compelling reason to read the book is this: we are all suckers for reunion stories, and perhaps there is no more fascinating reunion story than one between identical twins reunited after half a lifetime of not knowing that they had a twin. That is what drew me so strongly to this book, and on this score, too, the book delivers nicely.

Elyse and Paula were adopted by separate families completely unaware that their daughters had an identical twin being raised by another family located in the same city. The girls reunite in 2003 when they are 35 years old. The book is their joint memoir about their difficult reunion and the resulting deep bond that slowly, and at times painfully, develops between them.

Their story is highly personal, heart-felt, and deeply emotional. Plus there are mysteries at the core that compel you to find out more. Who was their mother? Why did she abandon them? Who are their biological family? Where are they?

Halfway through their investigation, the twins discover a dark side to their particular adoption. With dogged journalistic skills they uncover every lead until they finally arrive at the truth. You'll be thoroughly surprised to learn the true reasons behind their unusual adoptions...and you can't help but be proud of their perseverance. These are two extremely bright and tough women.

Identical Strangers is excellent journalism made personal.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book for anyone who has ever fantasized about finding a long-lost twin...to the authors of this book, separated at birth and adopted by different families, this actually happened. What is surprising and intriguing about the book is that it is not merely a warm reunion story---it lays bare the complications of suddenly discovering someone who resembles oneself and yet remains on some level a stranger. Although it is overall a positive book, after reading it one realizes that the long-lost-twin fantasy isn't necessarily as simple or as glorious in real life as it may be in imagination.
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Format: Hardcover
You can't make up a story like this---35 year old women discover they are identical twins separated in their first year by an adoption agency with possibly questionable motives (they are connected with a study of separated twins which might or might not involve mental illness). They find they both have studied film and have many other similarities, and start on the journey of getting to know each other and to discover more about their past. It was a book that HAD to be written! And for the most part, it's interesting reading.

However, somehow I found the book strangely dry and not as much as a page turner as the situation would make it seem it would be. I can't quite put my finger on the problem---I think it has a lot to do with the fact that so much of the book deals with the twin's feelings about each other and their uncertain feelings about having their lives changed by having a twin. This would certainly be an issue, but it's not really, for me anyway, that interesting to read about. There is also much about their body image issues, which are quite similar, but again, not really page turningly interesting.

The format of the book is a back and forth telling by Paula and Elise, the twins, in turn. We get information about a happening first from one and then from the other. I think the twins are more alike than they wish to think, as often it feels like reading the same thing twice! I think for parts of the book anyway a combined telling might work better.

I don't mean to not recommend the book. I certainly do---it's really an amazing story. Maybe a tiny bit more editing would have made it even better.
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Format: Hardcover
Identical twins Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein were born on October 9, 1968 to a mentally ill mother and were subsequently placed in foster care. Before they reached their first birthdays, the babies were given by Louise Wise Services to kind and loving adoptive parents who had no idea that their daughters were part of a set of identical twins.

Fast forward to 2002. Elyse is at loose ends, living a bohemian life in Paris and hoping to become a film director. Although she has known for years that she was adopted, she suddenly decides to apply to the New York State Adoption Information Registry for information about her birth parents. Six months later, Elyse receives a letter from Louise Wise Services stating: "You were born at 12:51 p. m. as the `younger' of twin girls...to a 28-year-old Jewish single woman." This bombshell changes Elyse's life overnight. She has a million questions: Who is her twin, what does she do, and where does she live? When and why were the sisters separated? If Elyse were to contact her twin, would they get along? How could they possibly make up for lost time?

Meanwhile, Paula Bernstein is completely unaware that Elyse had embarked on a quest to find her. She is busy with her husband and two-year-old toddler, and has just begun settling in to her new apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Elyse travels to New York and contacts Katherine Boros of Louise Wise Services, who quickly locates Paula and calls her to break the electrifying news. Shortly thereafter, the two women speak on the telephone for the first time. Finding out that they are twins is both an exhilarating and disconcerting experience. Although they look alike and have many things in common, Elyse is a single woman, footloose and fancy free, while Paula is a stay-at-home mom.
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