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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reissue edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452281091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452281097
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Narrated by Eng, one of a pair of conjoined twins, Chang and Eng is a daring novel that constantly threatens to lose its balance. It's also one that would be hard to believe were it not rigorously grounded in historical fact. Like the (literally) inseparable protagonists of Darin Strauss's debut, Chang and Eng Bunker were born in the early 1800s in a rainy village on the shores of the Mekong Delta. Achieving instant fame as the "Siamese double boy," they toured freak shows throughout China, Europe, and North America. Eventually they settled in North Carolina (of all places), married a pair of sisters, and fathered 21 children between them.

This fictionalized version of their story is narrated by the stronger, more circumspect twin, Eng, who must continually urge Chang to restrain his tears, his burning sexual desires, and his fear of the King of Siam (who has promised to "kill the double-child, the bad omen"). From the beginning, Strauss masterfully delineates the brothers' differences. Yet it's the porous nature of their relationship that will fascinate readers even more. The twins, after all, must always sleep face to face, connected by a fleshy band and the knowledge of their shared monstrosity. The fact that they are neither "he" nor "we" allows the author myriad opportunities for wordplay and psychological riddles. Does Chang love his brother, or does he love himself? When he hates his brother, is it only a piece of himself he is hating? Might the connecting band be its own entity, a pet that the brothers must tend to and feed? When they were children, Eng recalls, the band

was about two inches long, and Chang loved it. He called it Tzon, or ripe banana, and wailed if ever I mentioned severing it. It was more taut then, and would crackle like an old knee when we inched closer or farther apart (no one had any idea the thing would grow with us, and one day allow lateral positioning). I often fidgeted with a stretch of brown leathery skin--a hairy birthmark--midway across it, and also a little brown dot, a charming dinky island that lived, insolently, just free from the shoreline of the larger birthmark.
The novel's agile prose is like a smooth, strong current, pulling the twins away from their awkward lives. To his great credit, Strauss spends very little time dwelling on Chang and Eng as monsters, and their freak-show existence surfaces only in short, painful flashbacks--a jeering interlude that the narrator would sooner forget. And Eng's voice is a compelling one, full of quips, insecurities, and jealousy. Indeed, at some moments he seems like a standard-issue Renaissance man, reading Shakespeare in the afternoon, dreaming about pretty women, recounting his extensive travels. Yet the tragic fact remains: no matter how many countries this cosmopolitan visits, he will never have a room to himself. --Emily White --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 of 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 expos?. 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. Agent, John Hodgman. (June) FYI: Strauss was featured in "A Budding Crop of First Fiction" (PW, Jan. 10).
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Very well written and very thought provoking.
Marc
I was really excited and intrigued by the premise of this book, but I was disappointed.
Julie Merilatt
A very good fictional tale as told by Eng of his life with Chang.
Anne Shatrau

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Everything about our birth is known," writes Eng in Darin Strauss' novel, and in a way, Eng is right. We know about the lives of the famous Siamese Twins, that they were born to a poor fisher family along the Mekong River, that they spent time at the King of Siam's court before they were brought to New York by a cunning entrepreneur, that they had a brush with P.T. Barnum, that they married sisters, fathered lots of children and became slave-owning farmers in rural North Carolina. But what we can never know is how it was to be connected to each other by a five-inch ligature which contained a shared stomach. It is that imagining that makes Chang and Eng such a fine and poignant book.
The twins had completely different personalities. Eng, the book's narrator, was the more reserved of the two. He spoke accent less English and read constantly, frequently annoyed by Chang's immigrant-English and cheerful banter with the crowds. Chang may never have learned how to use the verb to be, but his slyly clever jokes and warm smile made him the more popular of the twins, and seemingly the most contented with his lot. Eng always yearned for separation but Chang did not, even when the two were in continual conflict. Chang drank, and Eng was a spokesman for the Temperance Union. Because Chang dared make his feelings known to a small-town Southern girl, the twins married-something that neither had ever dreamed of-and might have been happy if Eng had not fallen in love with Chang's wife. And because Chang died, Eng had to follow him too soon.
There is enough historical detail in Chang and Eng to set the novel in the proper period: Strauss is not out to write a piece overly heavy in historical detail. It is the characterizations that draw the reader into Chang and Eng's circle and make this book so memorable. Don't miss this book. I wish Darin Strauss every success, and look forward to what he writes next.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. Baity on June 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Being the local historican in the town where the Siamese Twins lived when they came to North Carolina to make their home, I though it would be impossible to read Darin's book as a novel. Having studied the Wilkesboro life of Eng and Chang for many years, I found it very exciting as Darin surmised how events could and may have been. The events in the life of the two remarkable men have been expressed in remarkable words. It is a book that I will cherish forever. Joan Baity
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I expect this book to win all kinds of awards come award-season: new author, best fiction, etc. This is a wonderful book in the way MY LIFE AS A GEISHA is. It takes you right into the lives of the people and gives you a perspective never before thought of. For instance, how many of us at times find another person (spouse, sibling, fellow worker, etc.) occasionally irritating, to the point where we just walk away for a few minutes. Well, Chang and Eng couldn't do that, EVER! Can you imagine? You will be able to imagine while reading this book. I found it humorous in many places, and sad in others. Fascinating at all times! We have all heard of the legend of the Siamese Twins, and here they are brought to life. The book is fiction, I know, but you will believe it is fact as the author convinces you with his wonderful writing.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "mecanoe" on August 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a descendent of the twins (Eng being my great, great, great-grandfather) I am always interested in reading about the twins and trying to learn more about their lives. As it is impossible to go back and learn just how they coped with their situation, I found Strauss' imagination captivating and a good read. I am curious why some facts were changed and others not. I enjoyed the book overall and would recommend it. Thank you.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Reading Chang and Eng makes you wonder how anything can come after it. Strauss was so giving with every sentence it feels as though he used up all the beautiful prose in the world. Like the girl in the book who falls madly in love with Chang and Eng never to be heard from again, I'll never get over this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Weber on June 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a wonderful book and read it in only 2 days. Like another reviewer mentioned I remembered Chang-Eng from the Guiness book as a child, and was quite afraid of the picture! It had never occurred to me to ponder what their lives had been like, how they came to be old men still alive when from their birth people had wanted to either kill or experiment on them.
The author did a thorough job researching not only the Siam sections but also the stateside portions of the book. You might be surprised to read that they became farmers and owned slaves.
I highly recommend this book to those who find the predicament of these two men just about unfathomable. Darin Strauss did a great job making them real people.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Darin Strauss has elegantly polevaulted over the difficult hurdle of writing a novel based on historic fact while keeping his story refined and tight enough that the novel stands on its own merits, as though the "fiction" is beautifully embellished by "fact". Not only does he make the history of the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng read like a flawlessly constructed novel, he has obviously carefully researched his subject so that all of the peripheral data (pre-Civil War America, early New York, the Civil War, the stature of Siam in the 19th century, supporting cast that includes PT Barnum et al) ring true.
In writing about the twins whose life was supported by being a carnie show act Strauss is sensitive to the concepts of how people out of the groove we consider "normal" relate. These twins are wholly believable in their interaction with each other, with an estranged society, with their two wives. At first the curiosity factor may be the reason for buying and reading this book. And for those readers who enjoy a sojourn into the bizarre, the incredible, this book supplies all that. By alternating chapters of the twins' childhood to manhood histories with chapters devoted to their adult status as husbands and fathers this fascinating book charges our interest to read until the inevitable slides under our eyes. Very fine writing, this, and a terrific lesson in human kindness and tolerance.
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