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Identical strangers by Elyse Schein

Identical strangers (2007)

by Elyse Schein, Paula Bernstein

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4455135,069 (3.5)42



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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
I watched the roller-coaster ride which is 'Three Identical Strangers', the story of triplets separated by the Louise Wise adoption agency, and so had to follow up with the written account of twins who suffered the same fate. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein were born in New York, 1968, to a formerly bright and promising young woman with mental health issues. Named Jean and Marian by their mother, they were given up for adoption through the prestigious Louise Wise agency, which was partaking in an 'experiment' to separate and study multiple identical siblings. The girls' adoptive parents were not told that their daughters had twins, so Elyse and Paula only discovered each other years later, when the Louise Wise scandal hit the headlines.

Told by both twins, this is an open and interesting account of what it's like to suddenly find a biological relative, and one who shares 100% of your DNA. They go through the stages of learning how closely their lives have followed each other to wishing, at least in Paula's case, that their lives were still their own. They also go on a quest to find out more about the twin research which separated them, and about their birth mother, which I found most compelling. The meeting with their 'uncle' is like a scene out of a true life TV movie! The many facts about twins - padding, I suspect - are interesting but not really what I wanted to read about (I laughed when the Wakefield twins got a mention, though!)

A shocking story with a happy ending, I think the film about the triplets tells the same tale with more impact. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Mar 6, 2019 |
I thought this was a pretty lively memoir that included a lot of interesting research. The story of the two sisters is incredible and i thought their voices sounded really honest. It was pretty eye opening in some respects and made me think a lot about nature versus nurture questions. ( )
  alanna1122 | Nov 8, 2018 |
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein are identical twins. They were both adopted, but separately, with neither adoptive family knowing their baby was a twin. At age 35, they found each other. What followed was a rather exhaustive search to try to learn what happened. And why. What they found was more than a little bit disturbing. In the 1960s, a so-called prestigious adoption agency in New York allowed some psychologists to conduct secret experiments, ostensibly to study nature vs. nurture. 5 sets of identical twins and one set of identical triplets were separated and adopted out, then followed by visits over the next few years. Interestingly, I actually read this book back in 2010 and although I remember reading it and being intrigued and disturbed by their story, I didn't recall a lot of the details. I also remember reading about the triplets who found each other at age 18, several years before these twins. They were all over the media at the time.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when a documentary film was released. It is called Three Identical Strangers and is the story of the triplets. Elyse and Paula appear in it briefly but it is a current film (released this year) and more information has now been uncovered. The truth is even more disturbing than what was known when the twins wrote their book. The *experiments* also, apparently, aimed to study the heritability of mental illness, as it appears that the mothers of the twins and triplets all suffered from some form of mental illness. The people behind the studies never published their findings and worse, the files are sealed until 2066, when all of the doctors and most of the subjects will likely be dead. They have hired lawyers and tried to have the files opened, with little success.

One fact that emerged is that, in the 1960s, when this all happened, there were no laws protecting the children, no laws on the books to make what was done illegal. Unethical, for sure, but not illegal. Laws have since been created but it is a harrowing story and for the triplets, a tragic one, as well. Both this book as well as the documentary film, are well worth reading and seeing. It's fascinating but disturbing heartbreaking and it's hard not to think about it a lot. ( )
  jessibud2 | Oct 14, 2018 |
An intriguing book, told in their own words, of a pair of identical twins placed in separate adoptive homes without the adoptive parents being told that they had a living twin sibling. Through a series of almost accidental events they discovered that fact when they were in their thirties. As you can imagine, they each experience a range of strong emotions as they try to understand what happened to them and to tentatively approach establishing a relationship with each other. In addtion to their well told, difficult stories, they include a great deal of pertinent research on the societal and psychological issues that their situation raises. I was particularly taken by the fact that they quoted from two books that I have recently read; "The Girls Who Went Away" by Anne Fessler and "Reunited: An Investigative Genealogist Unlocks Some of Life's Greatest Mysteries" by Pamela Slaton. They didn't need to use much in the way of genealogical methods to find each other but they did as they searched for answers about their birth parents. It is also an important book as we currently struggle as a society with issues of closed vs. open adoption and separation of siblings, particularly when children are removed from their birth parents for neglect or abuse.
1 vote herzogm | Sep 9, 2017 |
Must admit I thought this book was quite boring . Probably also had to do with the fact that I did not like the 2 sisters very much plus that I was not really in the mood so maybe it was just me and not the book. ( )
  Marlene-NL | Mar 12, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elyse Scheinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernstein, Paulamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Cuervo, AlmaNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, EffieNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dong, LaurenDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Snoijink, BobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Tyler

To Marilyn and Bernard Bernstein,
without whom this story couldn't be told

First words
Imagine that a slightly different version of you walks across a room, looks you in the eye, and says hello in your voice. (Preface)
ELYSE: My mother, my adoptive mother, my real mother died when I was six, but throughout my childhood I believed that she watched over me from above.
PAULA: In one of my earliest memories, I am sitting on the brick stoop in front of my grandma's row house in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812975650, Paperback)

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:10 -0400)

Elyse had always known she was adopted, but it wasn't until her mid-thirties that she searched for her biological mother. She was not prepared for the life-changing news: she had an identical twin sister. Not only that: she and her sister, for a time, had been part of a secret study on separated twins. Paula also knew she was adopted, but had no inclination to find her birth mother. When she answered the phone one spring afternoon, her life suddenly changed. As they take their tentative first steps from strangers to sisters, Paula and Elyse are also left with haunting questions. As they investigate their birth mother's past, they begin to solve the puzzle of their lives. Interweaving eye-opening studies and statistics on twin science into their narrative, they offer an intelligent and heartfelt glimpse into human nature.--From publisher description.… (more)

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