Cover image for Inseparable : the original Siamese twins and their rendezvous with American history / Yunte Huang.
Inseparable : the original Siamese twins and their rendezvous with American history / Yunte Huang.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]
Physical Description:
xxvi, 388 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
In Siam. Siam ; The Chinese twins ; Cholera ; The king and us ; Departure -- First years. A curiosity in Boston ; The monster, or not ; Gotham city ; The city of brotherly love ; Knocking at the gate ; Racial freaks ; Sentimental education -- America on the road. The great eclipse ; A satirical tale ; The Lynnfield battle ; An intimate rebellion ; Old dominion ; Emancipation ; A parable ; America on the road ; The deep south ; Head bumps -- Look homeward, angel. Wilkesboro ; Traphill ; A universal truth ; Foursome ; Mount Airy, or Monticello ; The age of humbugs ; Minstrel freaks -- The Civil War and beyond. Seeing the elephant ; Reconstruction ; The last radiance of the setting sun ; Afterlife -- Epilogue: Mayberry, USA.
A portrait of nineteenth-century conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker describes their rise from savvy side-show celebrities to wealthy Southern gentry and discusses how their experiences reflected America's historical penchant for objectifying differences.

"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."--Publisher's description.


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Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography,Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaitedportrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811-1874), twinsconjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fusedliver, who were "discovered" in Siam by a British merchant in1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almostimplausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Bostonin 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvyshowmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroadsof rural America to bring "entertainment" to the Jacksonianmobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to richsouthern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting intwenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not justanother sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavationof America's historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal,for tyrannizing the "other"--a tradition that, as Huangreveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.

Author Notes

Yunte Huang is a Guggenheim Fellow and a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Transpacific Imaginations and Charlie Chan, which won the 2011 Edgar Award and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. Having come of age in China as a student in the time of Tiananmen, Huang now lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Guggenheim Fellow Huang (Charlie Chan) offers a fresh perspective on the lives of the famous conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, that focuses on two 19th-century trends: Americans' celebration of white individualism and their desire for entertainment, especially at freak shows. Born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811, Chang and Eng arrived in the U.S. in 1829, under contract with a Scottish merchant named Robert Hunter for exhibition as curiosities. The appearances of the two young men in major U.S. cities sparked numerous public discussions about religion, the soul, and individuality. The liveliest parts of the book capture the exhibitions, which continued for a decade. More sobering is Huang's recounting of how race affected the twins' lives. Shocked to learn that, because they were Asian, most Americans considered them enslaved workers, Chang and Eng insisted on an improved business contract in 1832. Testing the boundaries of racial conventions, they married two white sisters in North Carolina in 1843, purchased slaves, and supported the Confederacy. The lives of Chang and Eng brilliantly shine here. Illus. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

from the moment they were born until the day they died, just hours apart, Chang and Eng Bunker were separated from the rest of the world by the same four-inch band of cartilage that bound them inextricably to each other. Born in 1811 on a houseboat in Siam, now Thailand, connected at the sternum and with their livers fused, they would become history's most famous conjoined siblings - the first Siamese twins. The work of describing their lives, which could so easily slip into its own form of exploitation, would be a challenge for any biographer. In the hands of Yunte Huang, however, Chang and Eng's story becomes more than a biography. "Inseparable" is a thoughtful, scholarly, wideranging meditation on what it means to be human. Early in the book, Huang, an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, casts a critical eye not on the "freaks" of his story but on their tormentors, defining abnormality as "that insatiable desire of humans looking at other humans as monsters." He tells us that Aristotle "deemed a freak a lusus naturae, an aberration of the Natural Ladder." Carl Linnaeus divided mankind into Homo sapiens, Homo ferus (wild man) and Homo monstrosus (monster man), a category that Charles Darwin perpetuated a century later in "On the Origin of Species." Even Victor Hugo cruelly referred to his lonely, suffering hunchback as "an almost." As infants, Chang and Eng were regarded not just as abnormal but as evil omens. The king of Siam even issued their death warrants before forgetting about them, leaving them to grow up as healthy, active boys on the Mekong River. Before they were even teenagers, however, their quiet lives were upended not once but twice. In 1819, when they were just 8 years old, a cholera epidemic swept through Siam, killing one-fifth of the country's population and more than half of the twins' family, including their father. Then, just five years later, they found themselves at the center of another, equally turbulent, carelessly destructive force - the plans of an ambitious Scottish businessman named Robert Hunter. Hunter, who had come to Siam seeking his fortune, first spotted Chang and Eng as they were climbing into a dinghy, their thin arms wrapped around each other's shoulders, working in graceful unison. To their mother, they were just boys, taking a swim after a long day selling duck eggs. To Hunter, they were a golden opportunity, emerging from the river after a monsoon storm in the low light of a half moon, "like a mysterious creature crawling out of Greek mythology." It took him another five years to obtain the king's approval and their mother's permission, but by 1829 Hunter was ready to send Chang and Eng on a five-year tour, a two-man traveling show. As the boys boarded the ship that was to carry them to Boston, they brought with them little to remind them of home beyond a small suitcase and their pet python. On shore, their mother and surviving siblings watched as they waved goodbye, none of them knowing that they would never see one another again. Chang and Eng would spend much of the remainder of their lives, another 45 years, in the harsh light of the public stage. Put on display from Europe to North America, they were poked and prodded, laughed at, marveled over, called freaks and monsters, and expected to feel ashamed of who they were. From the beginning, however, they refused to play the role of the cowering sideshow exhibit. Dignified, proud, even arrogant, they fought back - shocking and humiliating their abusers with their quick, cutting wit (in a second language) or, if the situation called for it, lunging forward in a raging fury, four fists flying. By the time they were 21, the twins had had enough, sick of being treated like possessions, traveling in steerage while their manager slept in first class, forced to perform when they were sick or simply bonetired. So they struck out on their own, eventually making enough money to retire from the exhausting and degrading life they had shared for so long. They bought a house in Mount Airy, N.C., and, to widespread outrage, married two Southern sisters - overcoming not only their brides' initial reluctance and the shocked, adamant objections of the girls' father but also the laws of the land, which forbade mixedrace marriage. Huang devotes an entire chapter, more than enough for most readers, to how the twins and their wives likely dealt with the obvious challenges related to the most intimate aspect of their marriage. Over time, and out of an increasing necessity, Chang and Eng had developed what Huang describes as "alternate mastery," with one twin completely yielding to the will of the other, "a sort of self-imposed 'blanking out,' a mental withdrawal." The twins took turns being dominant or docile, whether working on their farm, playing chess or increasing their large family, which began with a healthy child for each of them just 10 months after their double wedding and quickly grew to 21 children between the two families. It's difficult to follow the course of Chang's and Eng's lives without being impressed by their courage and determination in the face of extraordinary obstacles and prejudice, but one fact casts a deep shadow over everything they achieved: As inhabitants of the American South, and devout Confederates during the Civil War, they bought, owned and sold slaves. Having essentially been sold into indentured servitude themselves when they were still only children, and knowing far too well what it felt like to be treated as less than human, they did not shrink from subjecting others to an even worse fate. In Chang and Eng, Huang has taken on a complex subject. To help explain the twins' place not just in their own world but in ours as well, he enlists the help of anthropologists, botanists, novelists, essayists and philosophers. He crosses continents, centuries and fields of study, quoting everyone from Thomas Hobbes and David Hume to Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe, to name only a few. In the end, however, the impression that the reader is left with is that Chang and Eng were less affected by how society treated them than by the fact that they could never be free of each other, would never fully be, as they once put it, "their own men." Over time, the thick band that bound them together stretched to nearly six inches, giving them another precious inch and a half of distance. For years, they had consulted doctors across the country, had even asked to be separated at the risk of their lives, but they never achieved their freedom. The fact, then, that these two fiercely independent men would enslave other human beings, subjecting them to the same torment that they themselves could not escape, is not only difficult to understand but impossible to forget. It is perhaps the most telling detail in their extraordinary lives, a poignant reminder that what makes us human is not our ability to look the part but our willingness to see ourselves in someone else. Candice millard is the author, most recently, of "Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill."

Library Journal Review

Chang and Eng Bunker became part of American culture in 1824 when they were brought over from Siam, now Thailand, to become sideshow spectacles. While the conjoined brothers have been the subject of numerous books, including Darrin Strauss's fictional take on their life, Chang and Eng, Huang (English, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Charlie Chan) reexamines the twins' lives in both a historical and cultural context. The author looks past their celebrity to explore how two immigrants were able to free themselves from their manager to become slave-owning plantation proprietors in North Carolina in the years before the Civil War. The narrative follows the Bunkers on their trip across Jacksonian America, viewing events and issues that helped shape the country. While the focus often shifts to these larger cultural events, Huang has placed the rise of the sideshow and "otherness" as a central aspect of the American identity. VERDICT Huang's elegantly written biography uses the life story of Chang and Eng Bunker as a critique of a young America. Highly recommended to readers of cultural history.-John Rodzvilla, Emerson Coll., Boston © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Prologue: A Game on the High Seasp. xv
Part 1 In Siam
1 Siamp. 3
2 The Chinese Twinsp. 6
3 Cholerap. 15
4 The King and Usp. 20
5 Departurep. 26
Part 2 First Years
6 A Curiosity in Bostonp. 39
7 The Monster, or Notp. 51
8 Gotham Cityp. 57
9 The City of Brotherly Lovep. 66
10 Knocking at the Gatep. 70
11 Racial Freaksp. 80
12 Sentimental Educationp. 89
Part 3 America on the Road
13 The Great Eclipsep. 97
14 A Satirical Talep. 102
15 The Lynnfield Battlep. 108
16 An Intimate Rebellionp. 117
17 Old Dominionp. 125
18 Emancipationp. 131
19 A Parablep. 138
20 America on the Roadp. 146
21 The Deep Southp. 163
22 Head Bumpsp. 170
Part 4 Look Homeward, Angel
23 Wilkesborop. 187
24 Traphillp. 197
25 A Universal Truthp. 206
26 Foursomep. 225
27 Mount Airy, or Monticellop. 235
28 The Age of Humbugsp. 252
29 Minstrel Freaksp. 268
Part 5 The Civil War and Beyond
30 Seeing the Elephantp. 283
31 Reconstructionp. 297
32 The Last Radiance of the Setting Sunp. 306
33 Afterlifep. 317
Epilogue: Mayberry, USAp. 327
Acknowledgmentsp. 349
Notesp. 351
Selected Bibliographyp. 373
Indexp. 381

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