Chang & Eng by Darin Strauss

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Chang and Eng

Five words from the blurb: Siamese, twins, childhood, circus, independence

Just before Christmas Siamese twins were born in Brazil. I followed a series of links and ended up reading about Siamese twins for over an hour. My random reading ended on an article about Chang and Eng and I realised that I had a book of the same name buried somewhere in my TBR pile,  so I dug it out.

Chang and Eng is a fictionalised biography of the original Siamese twins. The brothers were born in Siam in 1811 and went on to become famous, appearing in America, England and France. This book details their life – from their early years in Asia until their death in America in 1874.

I enjoyed learning about how their life progressed, especially their visit to the King of Siam, but it always felt as though something was missing. Chang and Eng had a very interesting  life, but unfortunately this book felt a bit dry. It rarely managed to capture any emotion and tended to read like a non-fiction reference book. Occasionally emotions were investigated, but I found them to be lost amongst the overly complex sentence structure. It could be argued that it is an accurate portrayal of how people spoke back then, but I’m afraid it just irritated me.

Could I be falling in love with her? I asked myself. Is this what tender sentiment feels like?
Perhaps you are, I told myself. It could be so.
This discovery, which would have reduced me to fear and despondency just minutes before, seemed now little more than whimsical circumstance that somehow did not concern me directly. Rather than a flood of passion, love came to me as a curious and distant spectacle. But I shared my brother’s resolve to marry like ordinary human beings, to experience the matrimonial joy less deserving men relished.

The male perspective probably helped to further distance me from the book. I felt as though the wrong aspects of their lives were highlighted – for example, the arrival of their children was a minor event, whilst entire chapters were dedicated to small arguments within the marriage.

I’m pleased that I read it, but I’m sure there are better books on Siamese twins out there.


The only other book about Siamese twins that I’ve read is The Girls by Lori Lansens, which I remember enjoying.  Can you recommend any other books about Siamese twins?

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  1. I’ve never heard of this book, though I know about Siamese twins and all. Judging from your review, I would say that it could be interesting looking at it from the point of view of it being an expose of how Siamese twins live, their thoughts, their love life, their emotions andl all. It could also be an attempt for us to accept them as humans and for that matter normal and not to look at them with horror or some reservations. Be that as it may, I agree with you that the arrival of their children should have been greeted with or treated with much more importance. (Are the kids normal?).

    I don’t think I would read this book, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      celestine, It should/could have been all the things you mention, but I’m afraid it failed on a lot of those counts. It didn’t do anything to enforce the fact they are normal human beings – it only highlighted the differences, spending ages explaining how they have sex and how life is so hard for them. It was such a depressing book. I didn’t feel I came away with any knowledge as to how they really felt about being a Siamese twin. Such a shame.

  2. Ellie says:

    I’ve read Lori Lansen’s The Girls…well read most of it I don’t think I read to the end. I think the lives of the twins was interesting and it was more emotional than this one sounds but there was something about it that didn’t grab me. It was a while ago now and from my pre-reviewing days so have forgotten exactly why I put it down. I know lots of people that thought it was amazing though so it might be one to try if you fancy reading more about conjoined twins.

    1. I was going to mention The Girls as well – I haven’t read it yet, it’s on my wishlist. I read another book by Lansens that I really enjoyed so I have good hopes (or had, until I read Ellie’s comment).

      1. Jackie says:

        Ellie/Judith, I read The Girls in my pre-blogging days. I remember enjoying it, but I also remember having a few problems with it and I can’t remember what they were – if only I had been blogging at the time. I do remember it as being quite an emotional book – which is what I love.

        I think you’d enjoy it, Judith. Perhaps you should read it soon and let me know what wasn’t quite right about it.

  3. Alyce says:

    I have this book on my shelf, but had a feeling it probably wouldn’t live up to my expectations, so I’ve held off on reading it. I would be interested in other books on conjoined twins as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, It is worth reading for the information it contains and you may well love it – if you have a higher tolerance for that older style of speech. Give it a try – you’ll know withing the first few chapters whether it is for you or not.

  4. JoV says:

    I haven’t heard of any books about Siamese twins but it must be such an intriguing read! Another one that I will put on my wishlist. Thanks for the review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I hope that you enjoy it.

  5. I read this book years ago and my memory of it is that I found it difficult reading – mainly for the subject matter and the sad lives of the brothers and their wives. At the same time I was impressed by their determination. As you say it’s probably the complex style of writing that gives it a detached feeling

    1. Jackie says:

      Margaret, yes. It is a shame they had such sad lives as they had much more opportunity than most. I suppose it could be seen as a positive that this book was so detached – if it hadn’t’ been I might have needed tissues throughout!

  6. Jenners says:

    I just can’t imagine living life as a Siamese twin. Actually, I’m surprised it hasn’t been examined in novel form more.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, You are right – it is surprising that it hasn’t’ been covered more. There is room in the market for a lot more!

  7. cbjames says:

    I can’t recommend any books but I know of two musical productions. Side Show is about two women who became stars on the Vaudville circuit in the U.S. during the 1930’s. I never saw the show but I’m a fan of the cast album. The other is Brothers of the Head abotu two boys who become a sensation on the British punk rock scene of the 1970’s. I just watched it again today, in fact. It’s based on a novel by Brian Aldiss which I’ve never been able to get my hands on. I’d love to read it someday.

    1. Jackie says:

      Cbjames, thanks for the recommendations. The Aldiss book doesn’t instantly appeal as the punk rock element puts me off, but if it was well written I can see it might be the type of original book that would interest me anyway. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

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