This book is a historical novel about Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins. The outline of their lives is known from historical records, but the author had to fill in many details to give a close portrait of the twins. As the author says in his final note, there is no definitive record of their life. I presume that is why almost all you ever hear about them in historical references is that they lived and were the source of the term Siamese twins.
Mother was crying and her hand was over her mouth. Father hugged her. Our aunt was running a hand through mother’s hair. Ping had announced the news: the King wanted to kill the double-child, the bad omen.
Strauss, Darin, Chang and Eng a Novel, p. 30
The author gives them a poignant story in which they spent much of their lives more or less imprisoned, whether at the court of the King of Siam or in the clutches of an American promoter. In this story, they learned the Chinese martial art of Gung-Fu from their father – a useful skill for conjoined twins. They were also natural acrobats (this is possibly true – a plus for their long career as show-business attractions. They were rescued from their first promoter by P.T. Barnum, but, except that he arranged one of their European tours, they did not actually work for him.
They married a pair of sisters in North Carolina and lived most of the second half of their lives there, touring much less often and farming instead. Much of this story is the tale of their marriages, which here are shown to be much less happy than the outward tale of the approximately thirty-two years they have been married and the twenty-one children that they have fathered between them. One hopes that this part of their lives was not, in reality, this sad.
It was only as I met my bride’s – and her sister’s – awed and timid eyes that I believed it was true, because I felt that we were one. I barely knew these girls, but it did not matter. They had saved our lives last night, and were saving them again now.
Strauss, Darin, Chang and Eng a Novel, p. 135
But it is a captivating story that brings the brothers, and especially Eng, who is the narrator of this tale, to life in a way that nothing else I have read comes close to doing.
Cover image from Goodreads
Title: Chang and Eng a Novel
Author: Darin Strauss
Genre: Historical Fiction