- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt Company (5 Mar. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805096531
- ISBN-13: 978-0805096538
- Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 3.2 x 21.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,201,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Her Hardcover – 5 Mar 2013
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I only occasionally comment on the cover design of books, because in general I don't believe they really reflect the content effectively. However, since the cover here is in fact one of Christa's own photographs of herself and Cara, I find it brilliant and powerful. It causes me to wish that perhaps there were a few more of these images included in the text itself. Still, Christa's word images are as sharp and vivid as her photography must be.
Some parts of the story seemed to me to be disoriented and confusing, but I decided that this was probably an honest representation of the author's mental state at the time. It is likely a reflection of my own perspective that I was concerned about such things as the sequencing of various overseas trips and hospitalizations, or the encounters with various boyfriends or lovers.
In any event, this is a book that I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read. Although I have not lost a twin, I experienced the death of my own sister, and then my elder son, within a four-month period at the end of 1992 and the beginning of 1993. Both of these deaths were clearly accidental, but were unnecessary, and the circumstances made them very difficult to cope with. Hence I felt a strong resonance with Parravani's struggles. I am blessed that my own marital relationship and the community of faith to which I belong made it possible to deal with those losses with less dislocation than Parravani experienced, but I found myself deeply moved and could only respond with utter delight when she finally came out at the end of the tunnel with the birth of her daughter.
The author's twin sister Cara was a vivacious, mischievous, confident young woman. She expected good things to happen to her, so much so that when she entered the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, she tied balloons to their mailbox so Ed McMahon would be able to find their house when she won. Everything changed for Cara in her early twenties, when she was raped in such a hideous way that she lost her former self completely. She turned to drug abuse and other risky behaviors, and died five years later from an accidental overdose.
Having an identical twin is about as close as you can get to having a second self. Christa and Cara were even closer than most identical twins. They slept back to back in the same bed all through childhood, roomed together in college, and even invaded each other's marriages with a sort of jealous possessiveness. When Christa lost Cara, she could not tolerate being twinless. She set off on a self-destructive path similar to Cara's, starving herself down to 85 lbs. and becoming addicted to pills.
There's not a lot of joy here, but Christa Parravani's writing is remarkably clear-eyed and balanced. She shares the depths of her despair and self-abuse without straying into melodrama or assigning blame. Writing became Christa's road back to a healthy and productive life, as well as a way to stay connected to her lost sister. She says of her writing:
"It did what time and therapy and lovers never could. I knew that to write I must have a clear mind. And because writing was the only way to be with Cara, to move again in tandem, writing won hands down over my crazy grief."
I read a lot of memoirs, but this is the first one I've read that helped me understand what it's like to be an identical twin, and even more revealing, what it's like to lose the only person who shares all of your memories since birth. The loss is like suddenly becoming half a person, and Christa had to redefine who she was without that other half. She's a courageous and talented writer, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Christa took a series of photographs of herself and Cara, many of which are described in the book. You can view twenty of these photographs online if you do a google search for "christa parravani kindred". (I attempted to provide a web address within my review, but the Amazon system would not accept it.)
The first part of the book deals with their growing up, their parents' marriage and Christa's comparing of themselves, whereas Cara is always the bigger twin, the prettier twin and so on. The two sisters' lives are entwined even after their marriage. All it took was one afternoon where their lives spiraled out of control. That leads into the second part of the book where Christa writes of fierce honesty about the trauma, the confusion and of the darkness that has invaded their lives.
Throughout the entire book, Christa writes honestly and sometimes, with a brutal intensity of what it was like not just to be a twin, but being a sister lost in the whirlwind of grief. It is not an easy read and it is hard book to read without flinching. Christa writes of twinship and finding herself in the aftermath in such a way that you can just feel her pain, her confusion and the grief. It is as if she had to write to get through to the basic lesson we humans all have had to learn ... survive in order to live.
Did I learn more about what it is like to be a twin? Not any more than I have read in other books and not any more than what I have observed with my sons. However, I did learn that there are some writers out there that just cannot be contained among pages. This is one talent that I would like to see more of.
Cara sought escape and solace in drugs, finally narrowing her focus down to the drug choice for those who don't want to live. She'd told Christa that she saw herself die during the rape, but surprisingly heroin helped Cara to have some semblance of living. In the end, the heroin that took the edge off the pain took her life. This is the point at which Christa's life spun out of control. Christa was the steadier, less needy person, but nonetheless needed her sister. Cara's loss submerged her in grief and dysfunctional behavior, but over time she regained her balance.
Christa is an excellent writer and "Her" is a compelling memoir. But what I am left with in the end is a revulsion with the casual and cavalier attitude with which one person destroyed another person's life in order to meet his twisted needs. I am brought back to Atticus saying that rape is, "by force and without consent." The legal terms are very cerebral, but the aftermath is anything but cerebral. Over and over again these thoughts came to me as I read the book. It is my reminder. It is any woman's reminder and a reminder for any father, brother, and man who loves a woman. Guard yourself and the ones you love. Be aware and teach your daughters that being safe is better than "being nice." It is a reminder for parents of sons. It is a reminder for lawmakers. Cara was raped on October 18, 2001 at 3:30 in the afternoon. Hernandez had a convictions for "domestic assault and battery, assault and battery on a police officer, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon." (AP Oct 3, 2003). The AP also reported that between 1993 and 2000 no less than six women had taken out restraining orders against Hernandez. If only...if only...
I am glad I journeyed with Christa as she came to terms with a life without Cara and I recommend this book to anyone who wants a glimpse behind the veil of twin-hood and also anyone who is willing to brave the insanity to which rape can bring a whole person. Cara was a brave young lady, and Christa is too.