Cover image for Chang and Eng : a novel
Chang and Eng : a novel
Strauss, Darin.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Rockland, MA : Wheeler Pub., [2001]

Physical Description:
478 pages (large print) ; 24 cm.
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LARGE PRINT FICTION Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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Born attached at the chest, Chang and Eng Bunker were the Siamese twins for whom the term was coined, one of the nineteenth century's most fabled human oddities. Now Darin Strauss has rescued them from the sideshow of history, drawing from their extraordinary conjoined lives a first novel of exceptional beauty.

Taken from Thailand as adolescents, Chang and Eng toured the world's stages, finding celebrity while performing in a cage. Fighting for respect their whole lives, they were greeted by royalty and yet mocked by carnival crowds. The twins married two sisters and embarked on one of history's most fascinating and unlikely romantic journeys as they fathered twenty-one children. But the most compelling and mysterious relationship they endured was their own.

Chang and Eng is an unforgettable and sublimely moving story that reveals above all the longings and humanity of these remarkable twins.

Author Notes

Graduate of the New York University Creative Writing Program. Strauss is now a teacher in the program and lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This truly remarkable first novel is both a brilliant conjuring of a historical reality and a wonderful piece of storytelling. Strauss has taken the sad evidence and disturbing myths of the historic Siamese twins Chang and Eng, born in 1811, and created a tale of beauty. Narrated by Eng, thus giving the twins identities that both their contemporaries and history has denied them, the story extends from their rural childhood to the court of the king of Siam, from their career as a circus curiosity to their agrarian lives as husbands and fathers in America's south. But the real magic lies in the emotional closeness Strauss achieves; what would seem so distant culturally, historically, and biologically becomes immediate. Eng's telling of his tumultuous life with his brother, with its pushes and pulls, its struggles for intimacy and independence, its hatreds and, above all, love, will resonate in every reader's own life. A novel not to be missed. --Brian Kenney

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his stunning debut, Strauss fictionalizes the lives of famous conjoined brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, whose physical oddity prompted the term Siamese twins. With compelling characterizations and precise, powerful prose, this audacious work should appeal equally to fans of historical, psychological and literary fiction. Born in the Kingdom of Siam in 1811, the twins are joined together at the chest by a seven-inch-long ligament that contains a part of their stomach, the only organ they share. Apart from this band of flesh, they are completely separate individuals with different personalities and needs. Serious and reserved Eng narrates their story, which begins on their parents' boat on the Mekong River. They are soon the object of curiosity, condemned to death when they are six years old by Siam's superstitious King Rama, who then changes his mind and exploits them as freaks. An unscrupulous American promoter brings them to America in 1825. Eng reads Shakespeare, preaches temperance and, all his life, wishes desperately to be separated. Chang is outgoing and garrulous, drinks heavily (which angers Eng, who must also experience the effects of Chang's indulgence) and cannot see himself as less than two. As young boys, the first time the brothers see other children their own age, their philosophical differences are apparent: "`They are half formed!' Chang whispered. To me [Eng] they seemed liberated." The brothers find celebrity as a circus act (displayed in a cage) in the U.S. and abroad, become aware of the political tumult preceding the Civil War, and marry sisters in North Carolina and father 21 children between them--yet this dense fiction succeeds as far more than sensational expos‚. The author gracefully confronts the complicated issues of race, gender, infidelity, and identity, as well as the notion of what is normal. Strauss's vivid imagination, assiduous research and instinctive empathy find expression in a vigorous, witty prose style that seduces the reader and delivers gold in a provocative story of two extraordinary men who wish only to be seen as ordinary. Agent, John Hodgman. (June) FYI: Strauss was featured in "A Budding Crop of First Fiction" (PW, Jan. 10). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Chang and Eng remain the most famous conjoined twins in history--the phrase "Siamese twins" was coined in reference to them--but this work is most definitely a work of fiction. First novelist Strauss tells their story through the eyes of an aging Eng, who shares his petty grievances with the reader but rarely speaks with his brother. The "distance" between the twins is at first intriguing, but one comes to crave more details about the relationship, and in the end nothing is made of the theoretical bond between the lead characters. The plot takes us from their childhood in Siam through their married lives, but P.T. Barnum, who made them wealthy and famous, is largely absent from the book. Strauss instead seems preoccupied with the physical logistics of their sex lives and endless conjectural detail. Whether the subject of a given incident in their individual marriages or a moneymaking tour, the author's extrapolations of actual events are often less interesting than the facts themselves, and one senses the subject would have been better handled if the author had created his own characters. Ultimately, Strauss is not up to the task of a historical novel in the style of E.L. Doctorow. Not recommended.--Douglas McClemont, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.