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Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

A memoir coauthored by reunited twins explores essential questions of identity.Random House; $25.95

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In the spring of 2004, just as Paula Bernstein, a married 35-year-old mother of one, shlepped her daughter and diaper bag into their Brooklyn apartment, the phone rang. The caller ID read “Louise Wise Services,” the Manhattan adoption agency through which her parents adopted her. Within minutes, she learns something that will change her life forever: She has an identical twin sister, Elyse Schein. Soon afterward, they meet and start the giddy, yet awkward, process of getting to know each other after decades of living amazingly parallel lives.

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited (Random House) is a suspenseful and often painfully honest account of how the women piece together their histories and come to terms with the staggering fact that they—along with other children adopted through the same agency—were separated for nothing more than a psychological study of twins.

Both a detective story—the sisters set out on a dogged search for information about the study and their birthmother—and a touching account of twins reunited, the book delves into the very meaning of identity as Schein and Bernstein consider what they might have been like had they been raised together, or had each of them—genetic equals—been adopted into the other’s family.

Identical Strangers is not an indictment of adoption—in fact, both women appear to have close relationships with their adoptive families and neither appears to be wracked by her fate. Writes Schein, “I embrace both lives: the life I lead and the one that might have been.”

Reviewed by Renée Olson, mother of Daniel, eight.

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