Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography,
Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited
portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins
conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused
liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in
1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost
implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston
in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy
showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads
of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian
mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich
southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in
twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just
another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation
of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal,
for tyrannizing the “other”—a tradition that, as Huang
reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.
Out April 3, 2018
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Reading about the extraordinary has always been something I’ve enjoyed, the brothers in this book are amazing. Learning about their lives as conjoined twins is both humbling and sad, mainly because of their strength of character displayed in these pages. The author obviously researched his subjects extensively and told their story without assumptions and fillers.
He kept to the facts and avoided assuming how the twins felt or spoke about certain aspects of their lives. Everything was documented and supported. I found the story of Chang and Eng riveting and inspiring. To learn that they lived in Siam during the time period the movie “The King And I” is depicted in was surprising, as was the fact that they lived out their lives in Mayberry, where “The Andy Griffith Show” was set in.
Learning about society during their lifetime and how their presence amongst them was felt, was frustrating and shameful. There were many ironic aspects to the Bunkers’ way of life too, of which I won’t say so as not to spoil the story for you.
With support from their family and the twins desire to lead a “normal” life, the Bunker twins were truly heroic and had the courage of an army during a time of turmoil and prejudice. The end of the book that dealt with the twins death was the most disturbing for me and left me feeling sad and overwhelmed at just how horrible human nature can be. To be born in an unforgiving era…
This book is a well-written and impressively researched but is more than a laid out set of facts. The author reflects on culture and historical issues relevant to the twins’ lives. The thought of ‘freak shows’ and how this is where the brothers “fit in” better was hard to read. They were born during a time of exploitation and phrenology trend in medicine was at its highest, and slavery in the United States was a way of life.
I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through.
I appreciated the author’s tone of voice and writing style. He executed the written language professionally and astutely.
I gave this book: