In One and the Same Abigail
Pogrebin offers up an exquisitely written, moving, informative and, perhaps
above all else, courageous story.
The prose throughout in its journalistic clarity and unpretentious
elegance is stunning, most especially in its introduction, which at times
borders on the lyrical. I
think that’s because it’s so candidly personal. As someone who spends considerable time trying to string the
right words into coherent sentences I confess my reaction to those pages was,
yes, twinish: a combination of
admiration and jealousy. This book
is informative, if only in bringing into sharp focus why academics who devote their energy to understanding the human condition and dynamic spend so much
of their time studying twins. It is moving because it tells, sometimes joyfully and
sometimes poignantly, her own and other twin stories. And it is dually courageous because Abigail reveals so much
of herself and all the more so because Robin has given her permission to open
the door to that other personal self.
Robin’s courage, as she would probably want us to acknowledge, is found in the
implicit permission given that is evident and permeates every page and
Abigail’s mother Letty and I were college classmates. We both ended up living blocks apart on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan. Two of our children, her
David and my older son Tommy DOG are age piers. Interestingly Letty, who is one of the preeminent and most
articulate feminists of my generation, chose to use her husband’s name,
personally and professionally. The
girls, like my sisters, have not.
In Letty’s case, counter intuitive as it may be, it’s not
surprising. Bert Pogrebin is one
of the most engaging and thoroughly decent human beings I have ever known. Who wouldn’t want to associate with
that? The age difference between the
girls and my kids was not that significant but in childhood a few years magnify. So with what I would call an ad hoc
relationship with their parents, my contacts with Abby and Robin were sadly
tangential. Seeing what has become
of each of them, makes me aware of how very much I missed.
One and the Same is an
important book. Perhaps Kermit the
frog found that being green wasn’t easy, but his challenge couldn’t hold a
candle to being an identical twin. In these
pages we’re introduced to twins in all flavors, ages and circumstances. We see them gathered in convention,
making their twiness a business or leveraging it for all its worth. We see twins who study twins, who live
together or in proximity and others who live far apart, in some few cases
purposefully as far as possible.
We meet those who still more or less act twinish by dressing alike or in
one case creating works of art together. We meet a twin who has adapted to the other's sex change and now calls his once brother sister.
We see wrenching tragedy in the twin who lost his brother in the Trade
Center (there were others) or the twins whose genes in a statistically unlikely
happenstance contributed to the deaths of one of each of their very young
children. She makes us laugh
Twins are (at least) two things, and Abigail is at once the thorough
journalist faithfully conveying tape recorded tales and quoting research that
adds substantive meat to the bones of her story but in a profound way always a
full participant. In their narrative
or in the expert opinions gathered, she sees herself, she sees her sister. This book is a very personal journey,
and you would think a therapeutic one.
But that would diminish what it really is. It’s power comes from an unmistakable personal voice, an
unvarnished, candid and sometimes emotional voice, but one that never makes you feel
like an unwanted onlooker spying into her private self, quite the
opposite. There is, at least there
was for me, not a second of unease or discomfort that would befall an uninvited
The power of this story, and the draw of twins is that, while on the
surface they seem so different – on some level even exotic – they are as much a
mirror of us as they are of themselves.
Their challenge, puts into focus what we all face in navigating between
togetherness and apartness. In
that sense, as Abigail listens to these varied stories of fellow twins and sees
herself, we can all do so as well. Perhaps the twin experience is unique, but it resonates. To me one of the most moving lines
comes in a conversation when Abby asks Robin how her life would be if she were
gone. Her sister responds simply, “it would be broken”. Most of us can relate to that feeling
whether with siblings, partners, children or some especially dear friend.
The book’s dustcover presents us with photos of Abigail and Robin; prominently
as young children on the front and spine.
But without any hesitation, my favorite is on the back showing two grown
women in loving embrace, still in loving embrace. Abby says they don’t do that much any more, but it remains a
vivid window. They are together,
but from everything we’ve learned they are equally singular. Children together can be adorable;
adults engaged in embrace are ultimately what life is really all about. We strive so much to individuate, and
to do it well, but we yearn equally for connection. To have both is perhaps best expressed as Nirvana. This is the journey Abigail takes us on, the story she tells us.