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Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Book Review: Identical Strangers; A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited Print
Elyse and Paula, adopted as babies, grew up in two separate but similar families, each with an older brother, also adopted. The families were not told that the girls were actually twins, separated as part of a secret study. When they are suddenly reunited in their mid-thirties, they are confronted with many issues including the question of what role nature and nurture play.

It doesn’t take long for the women to note their similarities. Both had studied film, produced short films, and done work as film critics. They each struggled with bouts of depression, although neither had developed schizophrenia like their birth mother. (They later surmise that one element of the study sought to explain the heritability of mental illness.) The reader is struck by the overwhelming role that genes play in the women’s lives.

A thread throughout the book reminds us, however, that genes are also influenced by environment. Despite many similarities between the women, they also have distinct differences. Paula marries and has children. Elyse, on the other hand, appears to be more tentative about long-term commitments, although it is something that she often contemplates. One wonders how environment affected this part of their lives. Elyse is adopted at around 9 months while Paula went to her adoptive family earlier, at around 6 months. At age 6, Elyse’s adoptive mother dies. Later, her older brother is diagnosed with schizophrenia. In contrast to Paula, who seems content, Elyse says that she always felt like something in her live was missing. When she learns about Paula, she assumes that she felt the absence of her missing twin. Perhaps. But the void may also be a result of her life losses.

Whatever the case, it is shocking how many characteristics the women have in common. Identical Strangers; A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited raises many questions about just how much we inherit from our genes.
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