Chang and Eng Author:Darin Strauss In his stunning debut, Strauss fictionalizes the lives of famous conjoined brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, whose physical oddity prompted the term Siamese twins. With compelling characterizations and precise, powerful prose, this audacious work should appeal equally to fans of historical, psychological and literary fiction. — Born in the Kingdom o... more »f Siam in 1811, the twins are joined together at the chest by a seven-inch-long ligament that contains a part of their stomach, the only organ they share. Apart from this band of flesh, they are completely separate individuals with different personalities and needs. Serious and reserved Eng narrates their story, which begins on their parents' boat on the Mekong River. They are soon the object of curiosity, condemned to death when they are six years old by Siam's superstitious King Rama, who then changes his mind and exploits them as freaks. An unscrupulous American promoter brings them to America in 1825. Eng reads Shakespeare, preaches temperance and, all his life, wishes desperately to be separated. Chang is outgoing and garrulous, drinks heavily (which angers Eng, who must also experience the effects of Chang's indulgence) and cannot see himself as less than two. As young boys, the first time the brothers see other children their own age, their philosophical differences are apparent: "'They are half formed!' Chang whispered. To me [Eng] they seemed liberated."
The brothers find celebrity as a circus act (displayed in a cage) in the U.S. and abroad, become aware of the political tumult preceding the Civil War, and marry sisters in North Carolina and father 21 children between them -- yet this dense fiction succeeds as far more than sensational expose. The author gracefully confronts the complicated issues of race, gender, infidelity, and identity, as well as the notion of what is normal. Strauss's vivid imagination, assiduous research and instinctive empathy find expression in a vigorous, witty prose style that seduces the reader and delivers gold in a provocative story of two extraordinary men who wish only to be seen as ordinary.« less
I was very excited to read this book as I have been fascinated by the original siamese twins since I was a child. What a disappointment! The author chose to write the book from the perspective of Eng, the stoic twin instead of from the viewpoint of Chang, the fun loving twin. I truly struggled not to bail on this book. I kept hoping it would improve. I told myself repeatedly "just 20 more pages, it must get better". I almost made it to page 100 before I bailed. I just could not relate to Eng's morose thinking. He appeared to enjoy nothing in his life even though he was at the Thai king's court, traveled the entire world, managed to marry a set of American sisters and fathered a huge brood. I felt that if the book has been written from the persepctive of Chang there would have been excitement and more insight into being attached to another person your entire life. I cannot recommend this book. It was just boring.