Skip to main content

The Mystery Surrounding Multiple Births and the Nature vs Nurture Debate.

Lawrence Wright has just written the new book "Twins and What They Tell Us About Who We Are". It is published by Wiley. In his book, he explores how research on twins is helping us understand how genetics shapes our lives. Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker. (Interview with Barbara Bogaev)

19:30

Other segments from the episode on March 17, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 17, 1998: Interview with Fauziya Kassindja and Layli Miller Bashir; Interview with Lawrence Wright; Review of Nuala O'Faolain's book "Are You Somebody?"

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 17, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Do They Hear You Cry
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev sitting in for Terry Gross.

Fauziya Kassindja is the first woman to be granted political asylum by U.S. federal immigration officials in order to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation.

In 1994, at the age of 17, she fled her native country Togo, after she was forced into an arranged marriage that would have required her to submit to genital mutilation. This is a tribal rite still practiced in 26 African nations in which parts of the female genitalia are removed.

Kassindja traveled to the United States hoping for political asylum, but instead was imprisoned when she arrived at Newark International Airport. The U.S. Immigration Service held Kassindja in detention for more than a year-and-a-half while waiting for her case to be heard and then appealed.

Kassindja was finally granted asylum in June of 1996. Her case has set a legal precedent for other women seeking political asylum in this country, in that it redefines what qualifies as persecution. Fauziya Kassindja has co-written a book about her experiences with Layli Miller Bashir, one of the lawyers who argued in her first trial. It's called "Do They Hear You When You Cry?"

Terry Gross spoke with both of them last week. First, Terry talked with Fauziya Kassindja about her personal story.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Fauziya, I know your parents didn't believe in genital mutilation. Why not? Why were they opposed to it?

FAUZIYA KASSINDJA, CO-AUTHOR, "DO THEY HEAR YOU WHEN YOU CRY?": Well, my father, he really disagreed with the process of the female genital mutilation when he was growing up. And is because of their pain, he saw his sister went through when she had the procedure done to her.

And when he asked his mother, the answer was not satisfying to him because she told him that this is something that our ancestors did, so we have to continue to honor that. And he didn't find that to be a really -- a really convincing answer to him -- for him to say that he would do such things to his children some day.

And also my mother, who is from a different country, also her mother didn't believe in that tradition. And her father also didn't. Even though, in the tribe she comes from, they practice the procedure of (unintelligible), but her parents also didn't agree with that practice. So none of my parents really believe or agree with the practice of female genital mutilation.

GROSS: I think your aunt, your mother's sister...

KASSINDJA: She went through the procedure after her first husband died, and she had -- she was about to remarry and the man that was going to marry her demanded that she go through the procedure. And because she needed a husband and according to my culture, you're supposed to do what the husband says. And since she wants to respect the choice of the husband, so she has to do whatever he says. So that's why she went through it. And then she died of tetanus...

GROSS: Tetanus.

KASSINDJA: ... tetanus, and also my father, the reason why he really oppose it was because he saw the pain his own sister went through when she had it done to herself. So from then on, he swore not to have it done to any of his children.

GROSS: Your father died when you were 16. He had a severe asthma attack. And then his brother and sister-in-law, your aunt and uncle, took over control of the family. How did they end up having more of a voice in your life than your mother did?

KASSINDJA: Well, yeah, it's still part of our culture or the tradition. When a father or the husband dies, his children -- the whole of his property becomes the property of his family, his side of the family. They would decide whether they would let the wife stay there, or she has to go and live with her family.

So, it's really something that has been going on and one, and my mother has no choice. And she came from a different country and a different tribe.

GROSS: So your aunt and uncle who took over control of the family, they did believe in polygamy, they did believe in arranged marriages, they believed in female genital mutilation. And the year after your father died, your aunt told you one morning that you were going to be married that day to a man that she and your uncle had chosen.

How did she tell you this? What did she say to you?

KASSINDJA: Well, the discussion about me getting married went on and on, and I kept resisting. I said: "no, I don't want to do it. I don't want to get married. I don't want to be cut."

And it kept going on and one until one day when she said: "well, today" -- she called me to her bedroom and I saw all these jewelry and the clothing and everything well arraigned on her bed. So she said "well, this all your stuff," and today is the wedding -- today's the day."

I just said "no, it can't be." And she said: "well, your husband wants you" and "don't worry, you're going to be OK." The operation of the (unintelligible) is not going to take place today, so you have like few days to relax.

So that's how she finally like dropped the big information off -- the news to me.

GROSS: That man who your aunt had chosen for you to marry was I think about 30 years older than you. Is that right?

KASSINDJA: Yeah. He was 45. I was 17. Yes, that's enough.

GROSS: OK. And he also already had three wives, so you would have been his fourth wife. Your parents didn't believe in polygamy, but your aunt and uncle did. You even got to meet his three other wives.

KASSINDJA: Yes.

GROSS: What was it like to meet them? What did they tell you about what to expect?

KASSINDJA: Meeting them was annoying for one thing, and also they try to pretend as if they're happy to have me in the household. It was always "oh yeah, this is our beautiful bride. Oh, yeah, I'm happy."

And the third wife, she was so happy that, because when I come or I go along with them, I'm going to be the one to take up her job like cleaning up the household and doing -- going to the market and the cooking. So she would have somebody to take over her job. So that's one thing for her, that she has to be really happy about.

And the first wife, I think she was more serious, and she told me the rules of the house -- telling me how to respect my husband. If I respect him, he's going to love me. And I should respect her the most, and if anybody bothers me, I should come to her and tell her what's going -- so she was playing, you know, the role more like my mother in telling me that I have to respect her like I respected my mom. I have to respect my husband like I did my father.

So, it was really annoying and actually I didn't pay any attention to that. You know, I just ignored them and they were really going on and on, pretending to (unintelligible) they were really happy, but it -- to me I think they were pretending to be happy to have me in the household because I don't know how a wife -- a woman would be really happy when her husband is having another wife.

GROSS: The marriage ceremony took place and then the circumcision was supposed to happen...

KASSINDJA: Shortly.

GROSS: ... a couple of days after that. Tell me what the marriage ceremony was like?

KASSINDJA: Well, it was boring. It wasn't like the normal -- my ceremony we used to have in the community. It was really sad. It was more like a funeral.

GROSS: More like a funeral?

KASSINDJA: Yeah, to me, because it was supposed to be my wedding day, but all I did was cry. I wasn't happy. And we didn't have any activities like we used to have when there was a really happy marriage. None of my mother's family were invited, and actually the people who came were like, you can count the people who came to the wedding.

Which is not what it's supposed to be like. All the things that were supposed to happen during the ceremony, they didn't happen except for having me dressed up and the dye -- with dye on my feet and my hands. We did that. But besides that, none of the -- marriage procedures went according to the way it was supposed to me.

GROSS: There was a traditional woman who came to help you on your wedding day -- the nashanyu (ph). Pronounce that for me.

KASSINDJA: Natchanay (ph).

GROSS: Natchanay.

KASSINDJA: Yes.

GROSS: What is her role in performing the marriage rituals?

KASSINDJA: Her role -- actually that's what she does for a living, so she doesn't like have any role in my family or something. She's just someone that my aunts hired to come to the house and help me. She did the ritual bathing for the marriage.

And she also helped with the dyeing of the -- the thing we call lily (ph) -- a dye that -- we make the design on my feet and my hands. And she helped me to get dressed and she also does the female genital mutilation.

GROSS: Did she, or did your aunt explain why it's done and explain why this would, in their opinion, be a good thing and for your husband?

KASSINDJA: The reason why they do the female cut is because they believe that a female clitoris is as equal to the male's organ. So when it's not cut, it's going -- the women is considered as a man. So, no man would will marry her. So, it's more like a man marrying a man.

So in order to make her a woman, she's supposed to be cut. And also, the woman is not -- they believe that a woman is not supposed to have a very strong sexual pleasure. It's only the men who are supposed to have any pleasure during intercourse. And also, it helps to calm the woman down. She'll be like the perfect wife when the husband tells her to sit, she has to sit, and she doesn't have to be really outgoing.

And also if they do it before, like purification date -- is that how I say it? Like before...

GROSS: Purification date?

KASSINDJA: Yeah, before that, they believe the girl wouldn't be really like -- she wouldn't be prostitute; she wouldn't -- because she wouldn't have any sexual desire, so there's no way she's going to like being with men before her marry. So it's more like to keep the girl a virgin until she's married.

GROSS: Now, the way you escaped was your oldest sister had gotten you a plane ticket out of the country. She arranged a ride to secretly get you to the airport. And while your aunt was briefly away, your sister snuck you out to the airport with the help of this driver; got you onto the plane and you were out of the country.

You must have been mentally completely unprepared to leave home. I mean, you had never even been on a plane before.

KASSINDJA: Yeah, it's really strange because sometimes it -- so I sit down to really think about what happened and how I got here -- if anybody asked me to go back and do it all over again, I don't think I will do that again because I think that's -- I took a very severe chance, a serious chance, by doing that, because I left without knowing where I was going, and all I knew was, well, God is watching over me. So I know I'll be OK.

GROSS: Well, you ended up for a while in Germany.

KASSINDJA: Yes.

GROSS: And in Germany, you met a man who I believe was from Nigeria...

KASSINDJA: Yes.

GROSS: ... who sympathized with the position you were in, and said that you should really go to the United States and ask for political asylum. And he sold you a passport, so that you'd have a passport to get out of the country, even though it wasn't yours. And he said when you get to America, tell them it's not really your passport and that you want political asylum.

KASSINDJA: That's right.

GROSS: What did you expect the authorities would say after you made that little speech?

KASSINDJA: Well, I was expecting the officer that I talked to to be sympathize, because from my point of -- I said, well, any human being that hears about what happened to me, the person will sure sympathize -- that the person will say "oh, well, yeah -- I feel like I know where you coming from. Oh yeah, I feel your pain."

So when I got in, everything really twisted around. I said "oh, my God." So, I wasn't expecting to go through what I went through.

GROSS: So you were put in detention while awaiting a hearing for asylum. And you were shocked to find out that your hearing was scheduled for six months later, meaning that you'd be in prison for six months, just waiting for the trial.

What was the hardest part of prison life for you?

KASSINDJA: Wow. I can't name all the part because obviously, all the 16 months that I stayed in jail were all hell. I can't say oh, this is the fine day I ever had in jail. All the days were the same. And the one thing is even the way a fellow human being will talk to you, will make you feel like nothing.

She makes you feel like human animals. She talked -- they talked to us like animals. And they make you feel like -- they want you to really feel like the most humiliation day of your life. And they really succeed, because each moment at a prison makes you feel like nothing -- like why do I ever exist? You know, from the way even the prison guards treat us.

GROSS: My guest is Fauziya Kassindja. She's received political asylum in the U.S. to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation in her native country, Togo. She has a new memoir called Do They Hear You When They Cry?

We'll be back with Kassindja and the lawyer who argued her case, Layli Miller Bashir, after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Fauziya Kassindja, and she was the first woman to get political asylum in the United States on the national level, in a national court, on the grounds that she was escaping female genital mutilation.

Also with me is Layli Miller Bashir who co-wrote Fauziya Kassindja's new memoir and also handled a lot of her political case. Layli Bashir was a law student at the time the case started.

Layli, let me ask you how you first found out about Fauziya's case and why it was important for you to get involved with it.

LAYLI MILLER BASHIR, FOUNDER, TAHIRIH JUSTICE CENTER, CO-AUTHOR, "DO THEY HEAR YOU CRY?": Well, Fauziya's case meant a great deal to me because the issue of female genital mutilation was something that I had been exposed to through visiting my family, who live in Gambia, West Africa. And it was just an issue that I was very, very interested in. Throughout law school, I wrote papers on the subject and I had studied it from a legal as well as social and medical perspective.

It was really quite fortuitous that I had studied this issue. I had just finished writing a law journal article on it. And then I began a summer job where I was a law clerk in an immigration office, who happened to get Fauziya's case. My boss having seen that I had some background in this area really gave me her case to handle. And that's how I got it.

GROSS: What did you do to help organize a case around Fauziya?

MILLER: Well at the beginning stages, I helped to write the brief. I did the legal research involved in arguing her case. And then when it came to the day of the hearing, I was the person who argued on her behalf, who asked her the questions, allowing her to tell the story. And I represented her before the immigration judge.

When we lost, I felt a very sincere commitment to her and this issue generally. I was very emotionally affected by the whole experience. I think perhaps partly because it was my first. It was the first time I had been in court. And it was very traumatic for me.

I think being an American and believing that we have a great system of justice, I was a little naive I think going into the courtroom, and I was very, very shocked by what I saw and the insensitivity, the lack of compassion, the quickness with which she was judged and her claim was disbelieved; and felt really quite passionate about making sure that she would not be sent back to Togo.

So after her hearing, I left actually for the Beijing conference -- the United Nations Women's Conference in Beijing -- two days after her hearings. And there was really able to talk to a lot of women who were involved in this issue and galvanized support.

When I returned to the United States, I approached the Human Rights Law Clinic at American University and asked them to take her case on a pro bono basis. I knew her cousin was running out of money who had been helping in her legal representation.

I also knew that perhaps she could get even better legal representation through a university or another lawfirm. So I approached (Unintelligible). And they agreed to take the case, and I continued to work on her case, and advocate on her behalf as a law student.

GROSS: Layli, the immigration law says that an individual can be granted asylum based on a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a social group. What was your argument that she was a member of a persecuted group?

BASHIR: Well I argued that she was a member of a particular social group, and that social group consisted of being a woman, rejecting the practice of female genital mutilation, and belonging to a tribe that practiced it, and having no protection against it. So, it involved several different elements that comprised this social group category.

I think it's important to point out, and this is really part of the reason that Fauziya's case is so important. Traditionally, historically in our refugee laws, we haven't granted asylum to people because of types of persecution that are inflicted on them because of their gender.

We looked to things like political opinion and race and religion. And traditionally, those have been the basis for becoming a refugee. And the type of persecution that we had historically recognized wasn't the type that was often inflicted on women. That was seen as personal, not persecution.

But Fauziya's case helped to change that as a result of her case. Woman can now seek asylum in the United States because of a type of persecution that's inflicted because of gender, like female genital mutilation. Actually a recently handed-down case -- came down just the other week -- where a woman was granted asylum because of a practice called "troikasee" (ph) which is a form of ritual slavery on women and girls.

This woman was from Ghana. These girls serve as payment for crimes that their family members have committed. And she was granted asylum in the United States, and the basis -- the legal basis for doing that was Fauziya's case. It was cited as such in the decision.

GROSS: Fauziya, what is your life like now in the United States? Now, that you've been granted political asylum; you're out of prison. What do you -- what do you do with your time? What are your hopes for the future?

KASSINDJA: Well, the first thing I did was to go back to school. So, I was out of jail in April and in June -- June of '96, I started going to school. So I've been in school ever since that time. I was in the community college in Alexandria, Virginia. And actually, this semester I took the semester off because -- on a tour for this book. So, I couldn't take any classes.

GROSS: Fauziya, when you fled Togo, you weren't able to consult with your mother first 'cause your mother had basically been more or less pushed out of the family when your aunt and uncle took over after your father's death. When were you able to talk with her again and explain to her what had happened and where you were and why you fled?

KASSINDJA: Yeah, that was really hard because when I was in Germany, I wrote to my sister to tell you where I was, and I never got any reply from her. And when I finally made it to the United States, I wrote to them again, and then my mom and my sister -- all my family -- send me a photo in the prison.

And then when I wrote to them, I didn't tell them I was in prison. And my cousin, who had contact with my sister always told them that: "oh, Fauziya is fine. She's OK." And I also wrote to them and I told them I was in a place more like a boarding house, so they have nothing to worry about.

So when I was really finally let out of jail, I called her and I tried to explain to her where I was then, and she really couldn't stand -- she couldn't hear it. She really begged me not to tell her and she -- all that matters is that I'm OK now and I shouldn't worry about it, and she apologize to me about what happened to me, and she really begged me not to tell her what happened because that would really kill her.

GROSS: Does she think you did the right thing in fleeing?

KASSINDJA: Yes, she did and she -- actually, she apologize to me that I had to go through that all the time because she felt like, well, she's sorry she couldn't do anything to help besides having me leave the country.

And so she thought -- she thinks that something really great -- but she still think -- thought I didn't have to go through that. So she always said Fauziya, I'm sorry that I have to go through this; I'm sorry -- so she can apologize and I told her I'm OK.

GROSS: Well I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.

KASSINDJA: Thank you for having us.

BASHIR: Thank you for having us.

KASSINDJA: Oh.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: Terry Gross, speaking with Fauziya Kassindja and Layli Miller Bashir. Their new book is Do They Hear You When You Cry?

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Fauziya Kassindja; Layli Miller Bashir
High: Fauziya Kassindja and Layli Miller Bashir have co-written "Do They Hear You Cry." It is published by Delacorte Press. The book is based on their experience. Kassindja fled Toga, Africa to escape female genital mutilation. Bashir as a law student fought for Kassindja's freedom. Bashir is the founder of Tahirih Justice Center, which assists women facing human rights abuses.
Spec: Women; Human Rights; Genital Mutilation; Religion; Islam; Women; Africa; Toga
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Do They Hear You Cry
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 17, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031702np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Twins
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev sitting in for Terry Gross.

What we know about our genes and inherited tendencies is largely a result of the research conducted on twins over the last century. In his new book, "Twins," Lawrence Wright examines the mystery surrounding multiple births. He also explores the nature versus nurture debate, which began with the early twin studies in the 1860s.

Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker. He's the author of three previous books, including "Remembering Satan," about recovered memory syndrome. Wright says that the research into twins has often been considered controversial because it raises the most basic questions about identity -- who we are and what helps shape what we become.

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "TWINS AND WHAT THEY TELL US ABOUT WHO WE ARE," STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: For the last 20, 30 years, behavioral geneticists have made a profound impact on the way we think about human behavior, and has had an immense political effect, in my opinion.

I think that the rise of these twin studies has had a -- has shaped the way we think about individual responsibility, and that in itself has made us a more conservative society. And much of our information, even if people don't realize it, is derived from twin studies.

And yet, twins are not the same. There are many differences among twins that are yet to be explored. I think that in the next 15 or 20 years of twin research, we'll be concentrating on why twins are different, not why they're the same.

BOGAEV: I think what's so frustrating for people about -- specifically about twin studies -- is that you can flip-flop in the nature versus nurture debate, as you're describing, depending upon your historical or the social climate. And that in the end, we really see what we want to see in them.

WRIGHT: Mm-hmm. Honestly, Barbara, I don't think anyone can look at these twin studies and come away unimpressed by the power of genes to mold individual personalities and intelligence and behavior. I -- I certainly was deeply affected myself by working on this book and studying twins and talking to these researchers. I do think, however, that the nature-nurture dichotomy that has been at the heart of this debate for now over 100 years is really a false one.

Let's take an example, for instance, such as alcoholism. If you're a twin who's an alcoholic, the chances are that your co-twin will be an alcoholic as well. It's about 50 percent. But if you have a gene for alcoholism, it's not going to be manifested in Saudi Arabia, for instance, or in an Amish culture. The environment has an enormous effect on whether these genetic tendencies are allowed to be expressed.

BOGAEV: Now, you begin the book with a case study of identical twin girls who were given up for adoption at birth and placed in separate homes. Why don't you describe the case for us?

WRIGHT: This is a really fascinating case because it's a study that has never been published. It's a secret study. This particular case has been described -- this one episode -- Amy and Beth, the girls are called. They were separated at birth purposely, and studied in an experiment to see how they would develop in separate homes, in different environments.

Amy was placed in -- they were both Jewish girls and placed in Jewish homes in New York City. And Amy was given to a mother who was socially awkward and had kind of a flat personality. She seemed to have difficulty relating to the child. And the father was also -- expressed a kind of disappointment in the child.

And she grew up having a lot of problems. Amy was tense. She sucked her thumb for most of her childhood. She wet her bed. She had nightmares. She had some gender confusion -- confusion over her sexual identity. In general, the psychologists who were following this child and studying her thought that she was a portrait of a rejected adopted child.

But Beth on the other hand was placed in the home of a mother who was very cheerful, who seemed to really love the girl. In fact, the mother changed her hairstyle and dyed it to make her look physically more like the adopted child. And they considered Beth to be the "fun" child and the father was very open and accepting and available.

And most psychologists would think that if Amy had been raised in Beth's home, the problems that she had as a child would have been eradicated. But the truth was that Beth grew up sucking her thumb, wetting her bed, experiencing the same kind of nightmares and gender confusion. And in fact, expressed the same kind of longing for maternal affection that Amy did, despite the fact that her mother was visibly very affectionate.

It seemed to me one of the most profound challenges that the twin studies have thrown down to psychology is, you know, if one of these girls appeared in a psychologist's office, he would probably attribute her problems to her home environment. And yet, they had the same problems in different home environments.

BOGAEV: So right off the bat in your book, you imply that what studying twins has contributed to the nature versus nurture debate is that parenting hardly matters at all to personality development, which sounds profoundly depressing to a parent.

WRIGHT: Yeah, it's a -- it's an unsettling and counter-intuitive discovery that twin and adoption studies, which are sort of a perfect complement to twin studies, have shown us that the environment does contribute to the formation of our intellect and our personality and our behavior. But what in the environment is a factor?

It is not what they call the "shared" environment, that is the family that you grow up in, the schools and so on that you attend with your siblings; the church; your social class -- all those things that we call the "shared" environment tend not to have much effect on the way people turn out, according to these studies.

What does affect us is what's known as the "unshared" environment. And those are the things that happen to us individually. They're the people that -- there are friends that we choose; the kinds of things we choose to study; the accidents we have in our lives -- all those things that make us different from our siblings or our families are the things that tend to shape us.

There are also the things that we tend to choose for ourselves. In other words, we tend to choose the environments that make us the people that we are.

BOGAEV: Now let's -- let's throw a bone to parents. Can good parents make children happy? Can they instill the self-confidence, the qualities that -- the values that lead towards happiness?

WRIGHT: There's -- happiness, in fact, is one of the main things that families can contribute. Psychologists might call that positive emotionality. But it seems that if you're raising a family with good values and it's a loving environment, you will, as you would expect, tend to be happier.

The other thing that families can do is create sociopaths and criminals. There's very little evidence that criminality is inherited. It's very much more a factor of the family environment.

So, families are extremely important for good and for ill. But many of the things that we think of as being naturally the result of the family environment that you grew up in, turn out not to have very much to do with that.

BOGAEV: Are there areas where genetics doesn't seem to have such a firm sway over behavior? That is, do twins for instance tend to fall in love with the same kind of people?

WRIGHT: Well, this is another great mystery. Twins will buy the same kinds of clothes. They'll buy the same kinds of furniture. They take the same kinds of vacations. But when it comes to choosing a spouse, the spouses they choose are no more alike than spouses of unrelated people. And there seems to be no satisfactory explanation for that either, except for the inherent randomness of mate selection among human beings.

I find that one of the most cheering and amusing facts of twin life. There was a -- one study that asked twins to evaluate their co-twin's spouse. And they found that about as many disliked the spouse as not, and vice-versa.

And only, among the male twins, only 13 percent of them said: "I could have fallen for her myself." And among women, the rate was only 7 percent. So there seems to be a great deal of indifference, and even antipathy towards twin spouses.

BOGAEV: My guest Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker. He's the author of four books, including Remembering Satan, about recovered memories. His new book is Twins.

We'll be back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just tuning in, my guest is New Yorker reporter Lawrence Wright. His new book is Twins.

Let's talk about cloning. First of all...

WRIGHT: Yes.

BOGAEV: ... are clones twins?

WRIGHT: Well, you might say clones are more perfect twins. There -- there would be no doubt some difference between identical twins and clones, because clones would not be sharing the same womb environment. And identical twins, because they are born and reared in the same womb, suffer an awful lot of trauma and competition that a clone would not. And so, it's theoretically possible to make a more identical twin by making a clone.

It's amusing to me that people are sort of dismissing the cloning procedure as being just another way of making identical twins, as if we understood what identical twins are. I think identical twins are far more mysterious than clones. Cloning is a -- theoretically a very easy tactic.

But we really don't understand where identical twins come from or why they're so rare; why the only other animal that regularly produces identical siblings in nature is the nine-banded armadillo. And it regularly produces quadruplet -- identical quadruplets.

But humans are very unusual and we don't know why identical twins are produced or why they are -- they seem to be universal in -- throughout the world. It's about 3.5 births per thousand, all over the world. And yet the rate of fraternal twins varies enormously, from about six per thousand in Japan to 45 per thousand in Nigeria. This is an enormous difference.

BOGAEV: Has science learned something from -- from twin studies that sheds light on the moral issues raised by cloning?

WRIGHT: Well, I don't know that science is much interested in morality. But I would say that we know a lot about how twins have been separated by distance. There have been worldwide about 300 pairs that have been separated at birth that we know of and that have been studied. But they have not, as yet, been separated by time. They've been separated by culture.

But I think clones will only be a variation on that. They'll be identical twins that -- they grow up in -- separated only by time and not by, necessarily by distance or by culture.

BOGAEV: You tell some creepy stories about researchers in your book who have manipulated twins...

WRIGHT: Right.

BOGAEV: ... to fit their own scientific agendas. And I'm not talking about Nazis here, just -- I'm thinking of in this country, a set of triplets who were given up for adoption at birth and placed in three different homes of very different class backgrounds -- all with an older sister. They were never told of their brothers. And they were studied throughout out their lives.

And obviously these criteria fit the researchers' needs, who had -- the psychologist who advised the placements. I'm curious if the history of the twin studies gives you pause about how scientists have gone about their job, all in the name of science.

WRIGHT: Oh, it really does. And now -- about this particular study, I think there's no question that you could not do that study now. Informed consent laws are such that I just don't think that that study would be replicated. But it wasn't that long ago. It was begun in the '60s and it involved about 11 twin pairs, plus the set of triplets, and several other pairs that were not -- they were done as kind of controls.

And so there were -- in the case of the triplets in that study, they rediscovered that they, you know, were identical siblings. But there are a number of twins, let's say there are at least maybe eight pair who were separated for that study that have never discovered that they are -- that they have an identical sibling in the world.

I find that particular study really chilling, especially in that the adopted parents were never told that the children that they were adopting were identical twins. They were never given the opportunity to adopt that sibling. The children were allowed to grow up not knowing that they had someone else in the world that was so much like them.

And given how special that relationship is, it was such a great thing for them to lose. I really -- I know that the twins and the triplets that have rediscovered themselves find their relationships with each other one of the most valuable things in their lives. So, it's a terrible thing to take away from them.

BOGAEV: I think what scares people most of all about genetic studies or behavior genetics is that policymakers will take this to the next step -- into social engineering. And certainly there's a history to that -- that they'll propose things like parents should have to obtain a license before they're allowed to have children or -- or if evidence does point to a -- to a stronger genetic component to homosexuality, that parents will start screening for it.

WRIGHT: Well, the whole history of this century has been a story of the rise and fall of behavior genetics, and then the rise again. It began with the eugenicist movement, and the rise of Nazism, which took twin studies very seriously.

And then the -- after the Nazism, after World War II when behavioral genetics fell into such disrepute, liberalism arose as a reaction to that in this country and elsewhere, largely based on studies by environmentalists who said that we're essentially kind of blank slates, and it's our environment that makes us who we are.

And therefore, if we improve the environment, we'll improve ourselves. We'll improve the entire human race. Communism was based on that very notion, and that's why the communists in the Soviet Union killed their twin study programs because the twin studies that they were developing found that opposite, in fact. And so, communism itself did not prove to be a viable social alternative.

Now I think we've got a much more conservative climate, and I think that the difference between the -- the Great Society in 1965, which was the height of environmentalism and liberal thinking, and the Contract With America in 1995, 30 years later, after these twin studies had made their mark, I think that the difference between that -- those two eras is largely the result of these powerful twin studies that have persuaded policymakers that people are individually responsible for their actions, and it's not their families and it's not their social class and it's not the environment they came from, and changing their environment won't make a difference.

And that has a big political consequence.

BOGAEV: Lawrence Wright, I want to thank you so much. It's really been enjoyable talking with you today.

WRIGHT: I've enjoyed it quite a lot myself. Thank you.

BOGAEV: Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker. His new book is Twins.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Lawrence Wright
High: Lawrence Wright has just written the new book "Twins and What They Tell Us About Who We Are." It is published by Wiley. In his book, he explores how research on twins is helping us understand how genetics shapes our lives. Wright is a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Spec: Health and Medicine; Culture; Science; Twins
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Twins
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 17, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031703np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Are You Somebody
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Irish journalist Nuala O'Faolain's autobiography, "Are You Somebody?" was an immediate bestseller when it was published in Ireland in 1996. It was eventually knocked off the bestseller list there by Frank McCord's (ph) blockbuster "Angela's Ashes."

Now that Are You Somebody? is finally being published in this country, book critic Maureen Corrigan says that O'Faolain can return the favor.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: In the famous ending of James Joyce's novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Joyce's writer-hero Stephen Daedalus is perched to fly out of Ireland to escape the paralyzing influences of Irish politics, religion, language, and sexual mores on his art.

These days, Irish writers have an even more potentially deadly force to reckon with. It's called Frank McCord. When McCord's book Angela's Ashes implanted itself in American bestseller lists last year, it was all but universally acknowledged as the A-1 Steak Sauce of 20th century Irish autobiography.

McCord shamelessly stirred the stock elements -- a drunken but charming father; a martyred mother; ragged children; rain; nuns; confessionals -- into a magical brew that somehow tasted fresh and definitive.

Any Irish autobiography that appears after Angela's Ashes will be compared to it. So bowing to the inevitable, I suggest that you think of Nuala O'Faolain's bold and austere memoir, Are You Somebody?, as the kind of story McCord's mother, Angela, might have told had she been born a little later and a lot more articulate.

If mid-century Ireland was a stifling place for young men like Frank McCord, for women Nuala O'Faolain says, it was a living tomb. O'Faolain is thinking of her mother when she makes that pronouncement. Katherine O'Faolain (ph) was overwhelmed early in life by nine children and a philandering, famous, but impecunious husband. She resorted to numbing herself with books and alcohol.

O'Faolain inherited a love of reading from her mother, and did well in school. But when puberty hit, making out took precedence over making good grades, and her parents scraped together the money to exile her to a convent boarding school. In characteristic wry fashion, O'Faolain describes her first day in the convent this way:

"Not much more than a week before, I had been slow waltzing half the night, pressed into men's bodies. By comparison, I had now landed on a planet that could not support life."

Ultimately, though, O'Faolain counts being sent away to boarding school and not getting pregnant as the crucial accidents that allowed her to survive. With detours in clock-watching pointless jobs, she went on to win scholarships to college and post-graduate work at Oxford. Eventually, O'Faolain got hired as a writer and producer at the BBC, and then ascended to her present post as a columnist for the Irish Times.

It's her celebrated candidness, as well as her keen grasp of the larger social and historical environment she's been shaped by that distinguishes O'Faolain's memoir from other, more self-congratulatory, out-of-bondage tales. In quick, penetrating passages, she characterizes the spirit of the ages she's passed through -- the misogynist arty Dublin of the early 1960s, illustrated by properly horrifying anecdotes about John Huston and Robert Shaw.

London in the mid-1970s, when the impact of events like the Birmingham bombings stiffened her once-easy interaction with English friends. With discomforting discernment, O'Faolain also analyzes her personal history -- her long battle with the bottle when she subsisted on a diet of hangovers and take-away Chinese; her learned dissociation from her own body, so that for decades, it was easy to fall into having sex with a man, but unthinkable to mention to him that she'd gotten her period; her present sexual loneliness as an aging woman, not ready to embrace the role of benign witch.

O'Faolain entitled her autobiography Are You Somebody? in rueful anticipation that her countrymen would hurl the standard Irish question "who do you think you are?" at a woman without children or mate who dared to draw attention to herself by writing her life story; to which O'Faolain might offer this somewhat unstandard Irish reply: "someone forging in the smithy of my soul, the uncreated conscience of my gender."

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan will have a review of "Are You Somebody" by Irish journalist Nuala O'Faolain.
Spec: Books; Authors; Nuala O'Faolain
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Are You Somebody
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:00

'White House, Inc.' Author: Trump's Businesses Offer 'A Million Potential Conflicts'

Forbes magazine investigative journalist Dan Alexander has pored over business records, mortgage documents and government reports — and even staked out some Trump properties — to assemble a detailed picture of the president's business interests. He says the president has broken a number of pledges he made about how he would conduct business while in office.

09:30

Country Singer Mickey Guyton Opens Up About Race And Gender In 'Black Like Me'

Guyton's hit song, off her EP Bridges, is about feeling like a stranger in one's own land. The issues Guyton raises pose new challenges — not just to country music, but to our country itself.

22:30

Jeffrey Toobin On 'Tough As Nails' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Toobin spoke to Fresh Air in 2013 about his New Yorker profile of Ginsburg, written as she marked her 20th anniversary on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg died Sept. 18 at the age of 87.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue