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paigeawesome

paigeawesome

Currently reading

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
Rachel Joyce
Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter
Ellen J. Prager
Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited - Elyse Schein, Paula Bernstein 3 1/2 stars. Generally I liked this book. The title pretty much sums up what it's about: identical twins were separated at birth (or actually 5-6 months after birth) and found out about each other for the first time at 35. Although there is some discussion of nature vs nuture, what is and isn't genetically determined, and the impacts of environment and early trauma, it is really more about the two authors--how they found out about each other, how they reacted to the information, how their relationship developed, their own reflections surrounding their past and present situation. I guess I wish it had been more nonfiction-like. Their story is interesting but I would have been more interested to learn about separated twins and nature vs nurture in general. But it's a pretty minor gripe--the writing is engaging and fun to read and they do pose really intriguing questions about genetics and personality.

Overall, if this sounds like an interesting story or if you're interested in identical twins or twin studies, I would definitely recommend it.

There were some things I found problematic, which I am now going to talk about.

Fat phobia. In addition to hearing the twins compare their weight repeatedly (with "lighter" being deemed automatically "better") there are quite a few other instances as well. Here's one sentence that just made me cringe: "It will be easier for me to tell my family about my birth mother's mental illness, which is somehow less shameful than obesity to me" (p.179). Lady...neither obesity nor mental illness is something to be ashamed of... It rankles more because the mental illness is what ended up killing their mother (or at least contributing to her death). So it's worse to be considered unattractive than it is to basically be so chemically unbalanced and unhappy that you die as a result. What a world, eh?

Also they are continually trying to cast the doctor(s) who separated them and studied them as just super bad and ridiculously just BAD. There's one part where they quote someone saying that Dr. Bernard wasn't evil but came close. At another point they compare the twin study they were sort-of-but-not-really a part of with Josef Mengele's twin "studies." And they don't really have anything to go on besides "we're TWINS!! TWIIIINSSSS." Like that is magic or something. They never really convinced me that Dr. Bernard was doing something inherently wrong or unethical. Basically her premise was that raising twins places an extra burden on parents over raising a singleton, and being raised with a twin places certain unique burdens on the child. Disclosure: Peter is a (fraternal) twin. After talking to his mother about her experience raising them, it seems that, wow, guess what, it IS harder to raise two babies than one! Gosh darn. And talking to Peter about it, it seems that IS harder to differentiate an individual personality when you are constantly considered as part of a unit and compared to your twin. There are twins in this very book that confirm that. (Both Peter and the twins in the book also say that there are unique benefits from being a twin as well, just to be clear.) So it seems that Dr. Bernard's premise is not all that far-fetched, and if she is actually working from that assumption then what she did is completely different than what Mengele did. I mean SRSLY LADIES?? I get it that you are upset about being separated (or are you? you can't really seem to decide) but those comparisons and the whole "Dr. Bernard, Dr. Neubauer, so mean and wrong and dumb and wrong and MEAN!!!" just didn't resonate with me. It seemed over the top. You could definitely make the argument that it was harmful or unethical, or that at least would have been better if you had been kept together. But the thing is, they didn't present any evidence at all that it was harmful in general or had harmed them. In fact they both express contentment and relief (or something like it) at having been raised apart. So... um... yeah. All that "OMG EVIL DOCTORS SEPARATING TWINS" seemed somewhat out of place.

Also: "Dr. Bernard asserted [...] that there was no definitive scientific information about the heritability of schizophrenia. But articles in her file prove otherwise. One 1953 study among her papers found a significantly higher incidence of schizophrenia among the relatives of schizophrenics than in the general population" (p. 197). Er...One study? How big was the sample size? How were they selected? What other factors could contribute to the onset of schizophrenia? If the researchers were operating under the assumption that environment trumps genetics, noting that schizophrenia run in families doesn't necessarily discount environmental considerations. Maybe these families all share similar child rearing techniques that trigger schizophrenia. "One 1953 study" is hardly definitive scientific information--it could have been a study of three families that relied on self-reporting--the book doesn't say. So it hardly "proves" that she was perjuring herself or lying to further her evil baby-snatching-and-separating cause.

Anyway... I really did (mostly) enjoy it! ;)