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God's Fool Paperback – July 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Siamese twins Chang and Eng, who caused a sensation 160 years ago, when they were exhibited by P.T. Barnum, still hold a mysterious fascination Slouka's version of their story is the second novel dedicated to their vicissitudes in the last two years (the other being Darin Strauss's Chang and Eng). Chang, at the beginning of the book, is in his declining years. He and Eng have become sworn enemies at one point they even try to kill one another. Their enmity comes after they retire from Barnum's American Museum and buy a plantation, with its complement of slaves, in North Carolina, and Eng, much to Chang's chagrin, becomes a fundamentalist Christian. While Eng approves of Chang's marital relations with his wife, Addy, both brothers remember Chang's first affair: it was in Paris, their first season in Europe, with Sophia Marchant, a famous beauty. Chang's memories move toward her and away, as he trawls his past, going back to his and Eng's first astonishing appearance in the world (at the sight of the two, their mother's midwives fled). From a Siamese notoriety the king of Siam's astrologers took their birth as an evil omen they move to Europe, under the aegis of Robert Hunter, an opium trader and impresario. Slouka, a gifted stylist, eschews much of the freak-show energy that thrust Chang and Eng onto the stage of world history, in favor of an alluring balance between the elegiac and the ironic.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Slouka's exceptional first novel opens with a description of an apple fight among young Confederate soldiers awaiting orders from General Longstreet to begin the infamous Pickett's charge. Reflecting on this, the narrator (father to one of the boys) asks, "What manner of God ... would turn them, laughing, to blood and bone?" The same God, it turns out, who would cause one of them to eat so many green apples that he ends up sick, pants around his ankles, as his comrades march off to their doom. We are all God's fools, it seems. While this episode lies at the heart of the novel, the narrative is quite wide-ranging. The boy's father happens to be Chang, one of the famous Siamese twins brought to America by Phineas Barnum, and it is his (and, inevitably, his brother Eng's) story that Soulka details. This fascinating tale traces their birth and childhood in Siam, their travels and abandonment in Europe, the Barnum years, and their lives as slaveholding farmers in North Carolina (something of any irony in itself). Part historical novel, part commentary on the human condition, this powerful and often poetic novel belongs on the shelves of all public and most academic libraries. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375702091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375702099
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,523,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mark Slouka is the internationally recognized author of six books. Both his fiction and nonfiction have been translated into sixteen languages. His stories have twice been selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories, and his essays have appeared three times for Best American Essays. His stories, "Crossing" and "The Hare's Mask," have also been selected for the PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories. In 2008, he was a finalist for the British Book Award for his novel The Visible World, and his 2011 collection of essays, Essays from the Nick of Time, received the PEN/Diamonstein-Speilvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. A contributing editor to Harpers Magazine since 2001, his work also appears in Ploughshares, Orion Magazine, Bomb, The Paris Review, Agni, and Granta. A Guggenheim and NEA fellowship recipient, he has taught literature and writing at Harvard, Columbia, and University of Chicago. He is currently living with his family in Brewster, NY.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Liz Cary on October 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In some ways, I really preferred this book to David Strauss' Chang and Eng. This one, told from Chang's perspective, was much more lyrical and better written. The descriptions of the Mekong Valley, the surreal world of Siam, and the familial love between Chang and Eng and their parents, wives and children were superbly drawn. Don't believe the reviews that say this is some sort of copy of Chang and Eng. It simply isn't true. The subject of 2 conjoined brothers who leave Siam and end up slaveowners, husbands and fathers certainly provides enough material for two novels, and many more than that as well. This book does a good job exploring the ontological aspects of the twins' conjoined state. They had one body, but did they have 2 souls? An interesting novel, well written and full of lucid observations about human nature.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Slouka takes the story of siamese twins and paints a beautiful image of their homeland, their life, and the politics of their time. The story starting in Siam and ending up in the American Civil War is engaging and heartfelt throughout. If you try to imagine what life would be like from the character's perspectives it lends a new level of appreciation for Slouka's intimate details of their epic struggles and their hinderances in everyday life. It is impossible not to feel for the characters as they are thrown into a world that views them as a circus act, which seems to corrupt everything from brotherhood to pure love. Of particular interest are the portions of the story where Slouka also relates to the reader how the two help each other out along their journeys, bound by fate for their eternity. It was a rare find on a random purchase that I came about this book, but I highly recommend reading it and passing it onto your friends, if nothing else the sociology of their lives and of the many places they visit is worth the buy.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The comparisons between this novel and the other one about Chang and Eng are absurd. This is an entirely original book. Beautiful and intelligent. I was was taken in from the beginning and enthralled throughout. This is the sort of novel that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. What could be better?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bailey on May 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Beautiful, brilliant novel, original and indescribably amazing. Poignant and dryly, bitterly funny, one of my favorite books...everything you want a novel to be
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