Christa Parravani is a writer and photographer. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally, and are represented by the Michael Foley Gallery in New York City and the Kopeikin gallery in Los Angeles. She has taught photography at Dartmouth College, Columbia University and UMass, Amherst. She earned her MFA in Visual Art from Columbia University and her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers Newark. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Anthony Swofford (Jarhead) and their daughter.
Excerpt from book:
I used to be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.
I forgot who I was after my sister died. I tried to remind myself with a trinity mantra. I whispered my mantra to the woman who stared back at me in my morning mirror: I’m twinless. I’m a photographer. I’m Christa.
I saw my sister when I tried to see myself.
We were twenty-eight when Cara overdosed: we had the dark hair we were born with; we had angular faces and we fancied red lipstick; we had knobby knees, slightly crooked eyeteeth, and fingernails bitten down until they bled. We had a touch of scoliosis: grade school nurses pulled us into their offices for yearly back checks. Cara had a steppage gait that caused her right foot to drag a little behind her left, an injury she sustained during a car accident in college. My stride is steady, but my posture is horrible; Cara stood straight as a pin—her shoulders were proud and strong and she held them back. I slouched. She said I went round like a little worried pill bug; I’d roll up into a ball tight as a fist. We both flinched at the smallest sounds: slamming doors, quick gestures, and laughter if the pitch was too high. We had looks and fears in common.
I gazed at myself in the mirror after she died and there she was. Her rusty brown eyes, frightened and curious as a doe’s. In the mirror I’d smile at myself and see her grinning back. She was a beauty. And her square waist, narrow hips, and round breasts were now mine. I’d imagine all of my sister’s regality and blemishes as part of my reflection: I saw Cara’s weak chin, her cherry lips pricked into a bow, lipstick smudged at the corners of her mouth. I’d hold out my arms and turn them, exposing my bare forearms. I’d see each one tattooed with a flower from my wrist to my elbow. The stems of the flowers started at my pulse and grew up to the crook of my arm, blossomed. Cara had gotten these tattoos after many tough years, images that decorated and repelled. She had wanted to make sure she was rough enough around the edges, that she seemed impervious to danger, but the part of her that needed to be dainty and female selected flowers to mar her body. She designed a garden to conceal the evidence of her addiction. Her right forearm she marked with an iris. Its rich purple petals became the target for the puncture of heroin-filled needles. Her left arm she’d drawn up with a tulip. Tulips had been our grandmother Josephine’s favorite flower, and the tattoo was meant to pay tribute. Near the end, Cara had run out of good veins. Her tulip’s soft petals became blighted with track marks. Both of her flowers were drained of ink, which had been slowly replaced by scars.
My reflection was her and it wasn’t her. I was myself but I was my sister. I was hallucinating Cara—this isn’t a metaphor. I learned through reading articles on twin loss that this delusion—that one is looking upon their dead twin when really they are looking at themselves—is a common experience among identical twinless twins. It is impossible for surviving twins to differentiate their living body from their twin’s; they become a breathing memorial for their lost half.
Cara’s reflection became a warning. I would become her on the other si
“Haunting...more than a beautifully written memoir. [A] powerful and raw love letter.”—The Washington Post
“Christa Parravani’s lyrical, no-nonsense Her ranks with the best American memoirs of the decade....Incandescent...Unforgettable.”—Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Quiet Dell and Machine Dreams
“That [Christa Parravani] comes out the other side is never predictable—merely miraculous.”—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
“Christa Parravani powerfully transforms her anguish over the traumatic death of her troubled identical sister into the astonishing Her.”—Vanity Fair
“[Her] is a finely wrought achievement of grace, emotional honesty, and self-possession.”—Publishers Weekly
“Christa Parravani writes with extraordinary emotional honesty about being a twin and losing that beloved other self, and with equally remarkable candor about being an artist and about marriage, grief, and much more. I have never read a book that so directly engaged the perils and exaltations of being a female....Breathtaking...A fine and rare book.”—Alice Elliott Dark, author of In the Gloaming and Think of England
“Her instantly became my reading obsession....Parravani tackles her potentially melodramatic material with forthrightness and a flair for the darkly comic, while also remaining witchily true to the romantic uncanniness of twinhood. The tone she strikes is brashly ghoulish and heart twanging, the route through her past artfully circuitous. Her invites obsessional reader behavior because Parravani has the ability to make life, even at its worst, feel magic-tinged and vital and lived all the way down to the bone. She spins out of her dire experiences an enthralling story laced with weird luck and coincidences....The final sentence, honest to god, made me cry.”—Heidi Julavits, Bookforum
“Parravani succeeds in 'writing Cara back to life' and saving her own life in the process. No punches are pulled here, and Parravani’s matter-of-fact tone does nothing to shield readers from the enormity of her loss....Imagine looking in a mirror and not seeing yourself. Imagine living the rest of your life with half of yourself missing. Imagine looking at your own corpse. You don’t have to imagine: Parravani’s story makes it all clear.”—Library Journal (Starred)
“Concise and captivating, Parravani’s prose paints her phoenix-like transformation such that the reader feels the flames of her fire. A poignant, book-arcing metaphor illustrates Christa’s battle to accept herself with a mirror-image. Raw and unstoppable, Her illuminates the triumph of the human spirit – both individual and shared.”—Booklist (Starred)
“Christa Parravani's new memoir, Her, is a glimpse into the most intimate chambers of the identical twin relationship...Her is a tribute to the truly beloved, as well as a celebration of the push-and-pull between sisters.”—The Oregonian
“Moving…just the right balance of joyous, melancholic and bitter. [We sometimes read memoir hoping] for a small glimpse into the inside of someone else’s reality in all its messy glory. With humility and an unbreakable love and respect for her other half, Christa Parravani allows us that in droves.”—20somethingreads.com
“Full of headlong energy, Christa Parravani’s Her is reckless yet delicate, familiar yet otherworldly, precise yet with the soul of a fairytale, and deeply moving in surprising ways.”—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking is the Bomb