With wry humor, Shakespearean profundity, and trenchant insight, Yunte Huang brings to life the story of America’s most famous nineteenth-century Siamese twins.
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. 28 illustrations.
“Excellent… Mr. Huang compellingly makes his case that racism was a factor in these two self-made gentlemen landowners still being considered, late in life, as nothing more than a Barnumesque “freak show”… It’s not difficult to find in this, as Mr. Huang most definitely does, a comment on the times in which we live.”
– Melanie Benjamin, Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing…. give[s] an unvarnished look at the degradation and disparagement the brothers had to endure.”
– Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
“Inseparable, Yunte Huang’s exuberant and vivid account of the ‘original Siamese twins,’ examines 19th-century American attitudes toward race and sex that resonate today ― a time when immigrants, people of color, those with disabilities and others are denied their stories and denied their humanity… By sharing his own experiences, [Yuang] reveals the poignant commonalities of immigrants across time and place, strangers making sense of a strange land, determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.”
– Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle
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