Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History

Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2018. 416p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780871404473. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631493850. HIST
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.
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