STARRED REVIEW
April 2018

Joined at the hip

By Yunte Huang

As conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker could easily have chosen to live as recluses, away from the public’s gawking stares. But instead, they traveled the world as entertainers. In Inseparable, Chinese-American professor Yunte Huang (Charlie Chan) faithfully chronicles their incredible story.

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As conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker could easily have chosen to live as recluses, away from the public’s gawking stares. But instead, they traveled the world as entertainers. In Inseparable, Chinese-American professor Yunte Huang (Charlie Chan) faithfully chronicles their incredible story.

Born in Siam in 1811, Chang and Eng Bunker were the namesakes for the term “Siamese twins.” In their late teens, they were discovered by an enterprising Scotsman who convinced them to join him on an exhibition tour of Europe and America. The 19th century was a time when “curious freaks” were put on display. As noted by Huang, these carnival acts were “indubitably the birthplace of American mass entertainment.”

But the twins became adept and engaging performers. Financially savvy and frugal, they were able to save their earnings and settle in North Carolina, where they married two sisters and fathered a total of 21 children. This specific factor has long been a curiosity, and Huang surmises the twins’ lovemaking logistics and technique, referencing previous biographies, medical commentary and even the autopsy notes in which the lead doctor asked the widows “the most sensitive question about their sex life.”

Throughout the book, Huang provides historical perspective by noting other global events of the time, such as a slave uprising in New Orleans the year the twins were born and the political upheaval in 1830s America when the twins were taking their show on the road. Many of the subjects are timely today, such as the racial injustices the twins faced as Asian immigrants, often doubly worse for them due to their conjoined state.

As Huang points out, “[T]o them, being human meant being more than one, inseparable from the other—never alone in life, death, happiness, pain, procreation, or even answering the call of nature.” Inseparable is an engaging look at the lives of two singular people.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Yunte Huang about Inseparable.

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Inseparable

Inseparable

By Yunte Huang
Liveright
ISBN 9780871404473

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