Customer Reviews: Chang and Eng
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"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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on June 5, 2000
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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on June 13, 2000
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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on August 16, 2000
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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on June 2, 2000
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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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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on June 25, 2000
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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on August 8, 2000
The author weaves a fascinating tale of what could have happened in the lives of Eng and Chang Bunker, the original Siamese twins. The book opens when Eng, the narrator of the story, awakens to find Chang, his conjoined brother, dead. He realizes that just as they came into the world on a tiny boat in the Mekong River of Siam, they would leave the world still joined by that mysterious and ever-present "band" which joined them at the chest.
That first chapter captured my attention, and I did not want to put the book down. The writer masterfully switches from their early years and youth to their adulthood and back with ease as he fills in the blanks of their lives with skill and a vivid imagination. He takes the reader from the muddy waters of the Mekong River to the royal palace of the King of Siam; from the exhibition halls of New York City to rural Wilkes County in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina; from the facts of their life to the possible answers to questions everyone who knows about the "blemish of nature" have wondered about.
How did these men who lived every minute of their lives just inches from each other chop wood, walk on their hands, and develop very different personalities? Did they love each other or hate each other? How did one deal with his brother's drinking? How did they father twenty-one children? The author, in his own way, provides possible answers for all these and many other questions about the life and times of the original Siamese twins.
Even though the book is clearly marked "A Novel," there are too many facts to be fiction, and too much fiction to be history. As a native of Surry County, North Carolina, the place where the twins settled with their wives and raised their families, I could not reconcile the fact that the book implies that they spent their adult life in neighboring Wilkes County. The mixing of fact and fiction left we wondering just how much of the book is fact and how much is fiction.
Numerous descendants of the twins still live in Surry County, and I wonder what their reactions are to the author's delving into the private lives of their famous ancestors. Was it necessary to detail their sex life - including Eng committing adultery with Chang's wife? Was it necessary to dwell on Chang's drinking? Was it necessary to embellish the story with the rape of one of the wives by a slave? Was it necessary to write of Chang's jealousy that caused him to burn Eng's home?
While I enjoyed the book immensely, it would have been better if the author had used his tremendous talents writing either a true history of Eng and Chang or a work of pure fiction based on the live of imaginary conjoined twins.
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on June 21, 2000
Strauss hasn't written about the world's most famous conjoined twins. The genius of his story is that it's actually a study of what makes up individual consciousness, and is a tribute to the singularity of each human soul. These two brothers were physically never separate, but in this rendering Strauss shows how each experienced a very distinct life. I envy the technical skill Strauss used in creating Eng's character, a man of profound sorrow and wry humor. The story is really told as one long flashback; Strauss is able to move around in time as successfully as he does because every moment is calibrated with exquisite emotional precision. I also have to say that the first sentence of the book is among the finest opeing lines I have ever read.
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on June 16, 2000
I read this book while chewing DoubleMint gum. And then it dawned on me how perverse that was. Anyway, it's full of lush prose, a bizzare dreamscape of believable characters, and a great plot. What more could you ask for? Cheng and Eng have fascinated me ever since I first saw them in the Guiness Book of World Records; they were total freaks to me. Now some twenty years later, after reading this book, I see them as two beautiful humans and maybe I was the freak for having been so judgemental.
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