Dec 6th: Inseparable: the original Siamese twins and their rendezvous with American History

“In this “excellent” portrait of America’s famed nineteenth-century Siamese twins, celebrated biographer Yunte Huang discovers in the conjoined lives of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874) a trenchant “comment on the times in which we live” (Wall Street Journal). “Uncovering ironies, paradoxes and examples of how Chang and Eng subverted what Leslie Fiedler called ‘the tyranny of the normal’ ” (BBC), Huang depicts the twins’ implausible route to assimilation after their “discovery” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824 and arrival in Boston as sideshow curiosities in 1829. Their climb from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich, southern gentry who profited from entertaining the Jacksonian mobs; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but an “extraordinary” (New York Times), Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for tyrannizing the other―a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.” (Amazon blurb)

changandengWhy read Inseparable?

I’ve a big interest in anything to do with P.T. Barnum and his American Museum where Chang and Eng were ‘exhibited’ in the 1860’s. I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of seeing their conjoined liver on display in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The Mütter is the museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is well worth a visit. Where else could you go to see slices of Einstein’s brain?

Theirs is an extraordinary story by anyone’s reckoning. Born in Thailand in 1811, Chang and Eng came to America when they were in their late twenties. In 1843 they married two sisters, Sarah and Adelaide Yates, and between them they had twenty one children. According to wikipedia (of course I need to read the book to see if this is confirmed) they each had a house which they lived in for three days at a time. During each man’s three days in his own home the other would remain silent and allow his brother to make every choice about how they spent their time.

There is a novel about them Chang and Eng that I also want to read. Not enough hours in the day.

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