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God's Fool (Vintage Contemporaries) [Kindle Edition]

Mark Slouka
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $13.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $3.01 (23%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Historical Fiction
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Book Description

Born attached at the chest, Chang and Eng were considered a marvel, an omen, an act of God, evidence of His glory or proof of His wrath. Uniquely cursed, enslaved to one another for life, they were a joke of nature variously feared and abhorred, disturbing our most basic assumptions about the human condition. Mark Slouka’s dazzling achievement in God’s Fool is the ease and compassion with which he draws the story of one human being from this ghastly predicament. Looking beyond the twins’ physical connection, he imagines one man’s life of ordinary grace and suffering, longing and resistance, and the ties of love, as well as of blood, that bind and redeem us all.

By any standard, theirs is a history of epic variety and drama. Their birth, to an illiterate fishmonger, sent midwives screaming from the room. Condemned to death, they survived to be brought, at the age of thirteen, to the Royal Palace in Bangkok for an audience with King Rama III. At seventeen, laboring as merchants on the Meklong River, they saw their world erased by a typhoon. Consigned for three hundred pounds to an opium trader by their mother, who was desperate to ensure their survival, they sailed for Europe. There they entertained kings and counselors in salons and drawing rooms from Brussels to Rome, and, in Paris, met the woman who would divide them as no surgeon ever could.

When the culture that had lifted them up inevitably cast them down, they landed in the flophouses of London, where, penniless and starving, they were discovered by Phineas T. Barnum, who packed them off to America along with an assortment of bearded ladies and two-headed calves, albino beauties and dog boys, German midgets and twelve-fingered flute players. Leaving Barnum at the height of their fame to take a last stab at normal life, they settled in North Carolina, where, despite the tensions growing between them, they found, for a time, tranquillity as farmers and slave owners, marrying a pair of sisters and fathering, between them, twenty children. Their peace, however, would prove to be short-lived. As the Civil War drew closer, and their world began to tilt, they would first turn against each other and then, faced with a trial unlike any they
had ever known, draw together once more. No longer young, they set off to find the war, and to save what could be saved. It would be there, on that very real battlefield, that Chang would enact his final, terrifying battle with fate.

Sweeping and intimate, vibrant and austere, God’s Fool is a novel of soaring ambition and accomplishment from a fiercely gifted storyteller.

From the Hardcover edition.

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.

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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 387 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,851 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read October 10, 2002
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey of a connected life August 24, 2002
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars connected by the heart and mind July 28, 2002
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book! May 5, 2005
By Bailey
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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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.

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