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Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family

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"Stirring and unforgettable" —Robert Kolker, New York Times-bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road and Lost Girls

Identical twins Isabella and Hà were born in Vietnam and raised on opposite sides of the world, each knowing little about the other’s existence, until they were reunited as teenagers, against all odds.

The twins were born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1998, where their mother struggled to care for them. Hà was taken in by their biological aunt, and grew up in a rural village, going to school, and playing outside with the neighbors. They had sporadic electricity and frequent monsoons. Hà’s twin sister, Loan, spent time in an orphanage before a wealthy, white American family adopted her and renamed her Isabella. Isabella grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, with a nonbiological sister, Olivia, also adopted from Vietnam. Isabella and Olivia attended a predominantly white Catholic school, played soccer, and prepared for college.

But when Isabella’s adoptive mother learned of Isabella’s biological twin back in Vietnam, all of their lives changed forever. Award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki spent years and hundreds of hours interviewing each of the birth and adoptive family members and tells the girls’ incredible story from their perspectives, challenging conceptions about adoption and what it means to give a child a good life. Hayasaki contextualizes the sisters’ experiences with the fascinating and often sinister history of twin studies, the nature versus nurture debate, and intercountry and transracial adoption, as well as the latest scholarship and conversation surrounding adoption today, especially among adoptees.

For readers of All You Can Ever Know and American Baby, Somewhere Sisters is a richly textured, moving story of sisterhood and coming-of-age, told through the remarkable lives of young women who have redefined the meaning of family for themselves.

ISBN-13: 9781643755366

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Publication Date: 10-03-2023

Pages: 320

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Erika Hayasaki is a journalist based in Southern California, the author of The Death Class, and a professor in the Literary Journalism Program at the University of California, Irvine. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Wired, Slate, and others. She has been a 2021-22 Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow and a 2018 Alicia Patterson Fellow and received awards and recognition from the Association of Sunday Feature Editors, the Society for Features Journalism, and the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. She is the mother of a daughter and twin boys.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Three Triangles

Part 1

1 1998 9

2 Hà 14

3 Loan and Nhu 21

4 The Baby Lifts 26

5 Liên 33

6 Rô and Tuyet 39

7 Cuckoo Birds 46

8 Isabella 51

9 Cloth Monkeys 59

10 Olivia 64

11 Wonderful Beginnings 70

12 Keely 79

13 Baby Brokers and Viral Adoptions 88

14 "Is the Baby Okay?" 91

Part 2

15 A Twin Who Walks Alone 102

16 Blindly Searching 106

17 Fairy Tales 110

18 The Letters 115

19 Storms 122

20 The Fog 129

21 "I Got Her" 134

22 Strangers in the Village 139

23 "They Love Her" 144

24 They Are Coming 148

25 Motion Sickness 153

26 The Cold 155

27 The Night 163

28 "Harder than This" 167

29 Always Loan 174

30 "Where I Am From" 179

31 "Be with Us" 187

32 Goodbye 191

33 "I Will Come Back" 199

Part 3

34 America 207

35 "We're Still Here" 214

36 Switched 225

37 Powerful Marks 232

38 Similar Scars 237

39 Unspoken 243

40 Grandma 249

41 Where It Feels Safe 254

42 Climb Out 258

Epilogue 263

Notes on Sources 269

Selected Bibliography & Suggested Resources 293

Acknowledgments 301