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Chang and Eng
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on September 3, 2013
Darin Strauss has written an account of the life of the Siamese twins, Chang and Eng; starting with a few basic known facts, he has woven a richly detailed and imagined story of these twins - the difficulties they endured and their satisfactions as well. He has pictured for the reader the wedding of the twins to two sisters and the happiness and the complexities with their relationships. Strauss interweaves their domestic lives and events with the earlier days of their childhood, their summons to the monarchy in Siam where they were held for months, and the release to the land of their childhood and their mother. This is followed by their trip to America where for many years they toured the country eventually ending up in North Carolina where they found their wives. Mr. Strauss has done a very fine job of taking us into their inner world - the emotions and thoughts of the twins; he also has managed to differentiate between the two men, their abilities, behavior, and distinctive character.
I think this book is most interesting to read. Many issues connected with the lives of the twins are raised such as privacy and intimacy as well as the hardships and indignities of their " publicly exposed " lives. Mr. Strauss writes well with genuine feeling for his subjects. The reader feels the challenges and the development of these two men. He has invested their lives with an innate dignity so that the reader comes to a real appreciation for the difficulties these men had to experience and what they achieved as admirable human beings. I bought this book at Amazon.
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This is an ambitious and intriguing debut novel, which is based upon conjoined twins, Chang and Eng, who were born in Siam during the nineteenth century. It is through them that the term "Siamese Twins" entered the vernacular. Here, the author takes known facts about these famous twins and weaves an expertly woven story about their lives, while attempting to individualize them, giving each of them their own distinct and unique personality.

The author tells the story of the conjoined twins through the first person narration of Eng. Born in 1811 in a house boat on the Mekong River in Siam, which is now known as Thailand, Chang and Eng entered the world linked together at the chest by a fleshy band of cartilage. It would be this short band of flesh that would forever bind them together, ensuring that they would never have a truly private moment. For their entire lives, they would be bound to each other, and the two would be forced to live as one.

The author explores their private and often strange lives, which the reader views through Eng's eyes. It is through his intimate thoughts that the reader envisions how the twins may have possibly viewed their own lives. The reader follows the path that their lives took, from their poverty stricken childhood on the Mekong River to their presentation to the King of Siam. It then shows how, as adolescents, they came to arrive in America, where they were displayed as oddities. Eventually, they became an international sensation, becoming nineteenth century celebrities.

Amazingly, they went on to marry two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah, with whom they fathered a total of twenty-one children. Chang and Eng set up house in North Carolina, where they raised their family. Still, this book is not so much about the factual portion of their lives, but rather, about the thoughts of Eng, as he and Chang pass through life together. It is a very intimate, insightful look at their lives and, in particular, the longings of Eng to experience life as most do, as one and not as two.

This is a well-written and delicately nuanced work of historical fiction that is highly imaginative. Instead of having the reader remain on the outside of the lives of Chang and Eng, looking in, the author manages to take the reader into their lives, having the reader look out onto the world from the perspective of Eng. Through Eng, the reader sees the twins as having two very distinct and unique personalities and realizes the angst that they must have experienced in never being able to have a truly private moment. At times, Chang and Eng appear to have had a love-hate relationship. This is a poignant and haunting look at these two individuals, who were, by necessity, constrained to live as one.

For those who are intrigued by the lives of Chang and Eng, but would prefer a purely biographical treatment, "The Two" by Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace is excellent and highly recommended.
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on May 4, 2017
This book made me appreciate the strength of humans by nature. The tribulations that Chang and Eng had to endure made me love them as one soul but also as separate entities. I cannot imagine having to overcome half of the challenges they had to or being able to accomplish all that they did in their lifetime. This book inspired me to do all that I can with the life that I was given.
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VINE VOICEon November 11, 2000
This is a great one. Darin Strauss is an incredible writer with tremendous talent. I find it hard to believe this is his first novel. And what an imaginative one! Strauss heard the story of Chang and Eng, the "Siamese" twins, who lived in North Carolina before and after the Civil War, married sisters and fathered 21 children. He was intrigued (who wouldn't be) to the extent that the story inspired him to write his first novel. And it is a novel. Strauss has created a world, the twins' world, which may or may not be close to the truth. But truth is not the point of this novel, it is a wonderful work of fiction. Strauss is imaginative, without going overboard. The story he has given us is believable and thought provoking. Other reviewers have said this novel made them feel uncomfortable, and I have to agree with them, but to me, it wasn't a bad uncomfortable. Rather, Strauss made me have a vague hint of what it must have been like to have been Chang or Eng. No privacy in an absolute, claustrophobic sense. Strauss has remarkable character development in this rather short novel. He has made believable a truly unbelievable story (21 children?). He takes us to a world with masterful skill. Chang and Eng is a truly great novel. It makes you think about what it is to be human, to be alone with people right there, to be a freak. Enjoy this novel.
2 people found this helpful
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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.
9 people found this helpful
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on May 12, 2016
I prefer novels to documentaries and this story, I believe, gives a realistic view and convincing scenario of the life of these conjoined brothers. It still shames me about how cruel people can be to anyone considered "not normal." Being different can be lethal. A horrible way to live your life...fearing the people who will not accept anyone considered "odd." Aren't we all "odd" on our own way?
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on October 18, 2011
I bought this book because Joyce Carol Oates recommended it as one her favorite reads. I can see why. Although it's clearly historical fiction, the author paints a compassionate and compelling picture of what the lives of Chang and Eng were probably like. It is a humanistic portrayal of what was no doubt a difficult life for the twins and a life that was interdependent in more than simply the obvious way. I couldn't put it down. It's well written, insightful, and moving.
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This is an ambitious and intriguing debut novel, which is based upon conjoined twins, Chang and Eng, who were born in Siam during the nineteenth century. It is through them that the term "Siamese Twins" entered the vernacular. Here, the author takes known facts about these famous twins and weaves an expertly woven story about their lives, while attempting to individualize them, giving each of them their own distinct and unique personality.

The author tells the story of the conjoined twins through the first person narration of Eng. Born in 1811 in a house boat on the Mekong River in Siam, which is now known as Thailand, Chang and Eng entered the world linked together at the chest by a fleshy band of cartilage. It would be this short band of flesh that would forever bind them together, ensuring that they would never have a truly private moment. For their entire lives, they would be bound to each other, and the two would be forced to live as one.

The author explores their private and often strange lives, which the reader views through Eng's eyes. It is through his intimate thoughts that the reader envisions how the twins may have possibly viewed their own lives. The reader follows the path that their lives took, from their poverty stricken childhood on the Mekong River to their presentation to the King of Siam. It then shows how, as adolescents, they came to arrive in America, where they were displayed as oddities. Eventually, they became an international sensation, becoming nineteenth century celebrities.

Amazingly, they went on to marry two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah, with whom they fathered a total of twenty-one children. Chang and Eng set up house in North Carolina, where they raised their family. Still, this book is not so much about the factual portion of their lives, but rather, about the thoughts of Eng, as he and Chang pass through life together. It is a very intimate, insightful look at their lives and, in particular, the longings of Eng to experience life as most do, as one and not as two.

This is a well-written and delicately nuanced work of historical fiction that is highly imaginative. Instead of having the reader remain on the outside of the lives of Chang and Eng, looking in, the author manages to take the reader into their lives, having the reader look out onto the world from the perspective of Eng. Through Eng, the reader sees the twins as having two very distinct and unique personalities and realizes the angst that they must have experienced in never being able to have a truly private moment. At times, Chang and Eng appear to have had a love-hate relationship. This is a poignant and haunting look at these two individuals, who were, by necessity, constrained to live as one.

For those who are intrigued by the lives of Chang and Eng, but would prefer a purely biographical treatment, "The Two" by Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace is excellent and highly recommended.
2 people found this helpful
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on August 11, 2010
I had to force my way through this novel. The premise...loss of independence, loss of privacy, loss of identity...was enough to depress me time and again. (It still has that effect now, writing this review.) So I have to admit a bias.

It wasn't entertaining. It was well-written, thoughtfully executed...but not entertaining.

But then, how entertaining can something be when you're wincing so often you need either shiatsu or a chiropractic session every time you turn the page?

As a début, 'Chang and Eng' is a fabulous indicator of Mr. Strauss's talent. I'm looking forward to the rest of his novels...which I happen to have beside me right now.

But I won't ever be going back to re-read this one.

Personal rating: 7/10
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on December 19, 2012
The topic was a fascinating one and I'm sure many folks have wondered what it would be like to have to be in the constant company of someone else for your entire life. Although this is a fictional account, it is undoubtedly one feasible scenario, and well told.
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