Inseparable
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.

Inseparable Details

TitleInseparable
Author
ReleaseApr 3rd, 2018
PublisherLiveright
ISBN-139780871404473
Rating
GenreBiography, Nonfiction, History, Historical

Inseparable Review

  • Keith Chawgo
    January 1, 1970
    Inseparable is a biography about the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. The story reminds me of the Elephant Man but Huang has lovingly researched his subject matter with an incredible thorough hand. The Bunker twins lived from 1811 to 1874. The story follows from their birth to their eventual death and their tour throughout America during this time. Lovingly told through emotional highs and lows, this is an incredible story that garners one to delve into their lives. Heartbreak, horr Inseparable is a biography about the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. The story reminds me of the Elephant Man but Huang has lovingly researched his subject matter with an incredible thorough hand. The Bunker twins lived from 1811 to 1874. The story follows from their birth to their eventual death and their tour throughout America during this time. Lovingly told through emotional highs and lows, this is an incredible story that garners one to delve into their lives. Heartbreak, horror, comedy, darkness and light, all aspects of life are on show and it is a testament to this incredible pair. The book is very readable and I was so involved with finding out about the Bunker twins that I could not get enough. I was in awe of this incredible biography. Imagine life in the 1800’s, before acceptance and political correctness and being born with a genetic defect that stands out from the crowd. Huang is able to look at their lives and how they had made their mark on life. This is a phenomenal book and one that I urge many to read. Huang is top of his game when chronicling the lives of these two men. If you are looking for a biography that goes beyond just pointed facts, I urge to you to give this try just for the depth of the emotion alone sets this apart from so many biographies. This is a true winner.
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  • Nalene
    January 1, 1970
    I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway. If I could give it a 4.5, I would (only because I am very stingy with 5s). This is a well-written and impressively researched examination of the lives of the conjoined twins of Siam, Chang and Eng (Bunker). But it is about so much more than those brothers. It examines relevant ancillary issues and events in American culture and history preceding and during the Civil War and during the period of Reconstruction. In many way I received an advanced copy of this book courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway. If I could give it a 4.5, I would (only because I am very stingy with 5s). This is a well-written and impressively researched examination of the lives of the conjoined twins of Siam, Chang and Eng (Bunker). But it is about so much more than those brothers. It examines relevant ancillary issues and events in American culture and history preceding and during the Civil War and during the period of Reconstruction. In many ways, Huang makes it clear how the twins were made for "such a time as this," as their lives collided with the American "freak show" fascination, the rise (and fall) of P.T. Barnum, the phrenology trend in medicine, the Great Awakening, and--of course--the binary nature of class and race during the time of American slavery. Huang demonstrates through anecdote and thorough research how Chang and Eng represented the "other" in so many ways but, almost inexplicably, captured much of what constitutes the American Dream. The odd juxtaposition of the twins and the Andy Griffith Show is also described at length. Anyone who enjoys historical non-fiction written by scholars but in a narrative way would enjoy this book.
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  • Karyl
    January 1, 1970
    As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to wend my way through the Guinness Book of World Records, and I believe it was there that I first came across Chang and Eng as conjoined twins. As with most of America at the time they were living, I was fascinated by how they could live ordinary lives even as they were attached to one another. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the author and knew I had to request this book. This is a fascinating look at not only the lives of Chang a As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to wend my way through the Guinness Book of World Records, and I believe it was there that I first came across Chang and Eng as conjoined twins. As with most of America at the time they were living, I was fascinated by how they could live ordinary lives even as they were attached to one another. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the author and knew I had to request this book. This is a fascinating look at not only the lives of Chang and Eng and how they came to be slave-holding members of North Carolina society from a tiny village in Siam, but also what was going on in the world during this time. We get a sense of what life was like in Siam on the river, the dense smog of newly industrialized London, New York City before it became a sprawling metropolis. We learn of the twins' fight for independence from the man who bought them in Siam, and the surprising way they managed to marry and live ordinary lives in the hills of North Carolina. It is clear that Huang spent a lot of time and effort on researching this book.The issue is there's not a whole lot of the personality of the twins. It could be that they didn't write all that often. Perhaps they didn't keep diaries. But by the end of the book, all we know about the twins personally is that Chang was a hard drinker and Eng was a teetotaler, and that they both had a temper that could flare up at times. I wish there were more about who the men were as people so we could get to know them more.I did enjoy the way in which Huang managed to tie Mayberry, a place of whiteness and rose-colored glasses, to Mount Airy, home of the twins, and how the town managed to welcome someone who wasn't just not white, but a freak of nature as well. But there is quite a lot of information in this book, and at times it felt a little overwhelming.Highly recommended.
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  • Christine
    January 1, 1970
    I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.I had never read an in-depth story about Chang and Eng Bunker, the original "Siamese Twins" and the impetus for the commonly used phrase. I had heard of them, of course, and seen things on The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia about their shared liver, but never actually read about them as people. This is a well-researched, in-depth, but not overwhelming look at their lives which includes insightful commentary about the world and the natio I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.I had never read an in-depth story about Chang and Eng Bunker, the original "Siamese Twins" and the impetus for the commonly used phrase. I had heard of them, of course, and seen things on The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia about their shared liver, but never actually read about them as people. This is a well-researched, in-depth, but not overwhelming look at their lives which includes insightful commentary about the world and the nation in which they lived. Of particular interest, especially now, is the twins' transformation from slave-held to slave-holders and the way in which they likely saw themselves in the world versus the way the world saw them. Their twilight years as landed gentry in the South, particularly during the Civil War, were fascinating to read about. Huang's writing is engaging and interesting, and the wrap-up Epilogue comparing Mayberry (Mt. Airy North Carolina, where the twins lived those twilight years) to the real world of the 50's and 60's is an excellent cap on the entire tale. Highly recommend checking this book out when it's published.
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  • Mom2nine
    January 1, 1970
    Having already read a fictionalized story about the "Siamese Twins" I was interested in this biography. Huang's research is intense and in-depth, yet the book is readable and interesting. I appreciate that he avoids assumptions or putting words or thoughts into the twins, if there is not proof. The book is incredibly detailed with notes and ledgers, all with valid sources. This is more than just a biography, though, with historical details giving an understanding of the time period and contempor Having already read a fictionalized story about the "Siamese Twins" I was interested in this biography. Huang's research is intense and in-depth, yet the book is readable and interesting. I appreciate that he avoids assumptions or putting words or thoughts into the twins, if there is not proof. The book is incredibly detailed with notes and ledgers, all with valid sources. This is more than just a biography, though, with historical details giving an understanding of the time period and contemporaries. book received in goodreads contest.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    This is the compelling story of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, an amazing pair. The book is also a cultural study of America's fascination with and treatment of the other.
  • Janet Slipak
    January 1, 1970
    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 a 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-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.Out April 3, 2018MY THOUGHTS:I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.Reading about the extraordinary has always been something I’ve enjoyed, the brothers in this book are amazing. Learning about their lives as conjoined twins is both humbling and sad, mainly because of their strength of character displayed in these pages. The author obviously researched his subjects extensively and told their story without assumptions and fillers.He kept to the facts and avoided assuming how the twins felt or spoke about certain aspects of their lives. Everything was documented and supported. I found the story of Chang and Eng riveting and inspiring. To learn that they lived in Siam during the time period the movie “The King And I” is depicted in was surprising, as was the fact that they lived out their lives in Mayberry, where “The Andy Griffith Show” was set in.Learning about society during their lifetime and how their presence amongst them was felt, was frustrating and shameful. There were many ironic aspects to the Bunkers’ way of life too, of which I won’t say so as not to spoil the story for you.With support from their family and the twins desire to lead a “normal” life, the Bunker twins were truly heroic and had the courage of an army during a time of turmoil and prejudice. The end of the book that dealt with the twins death was the most disturbing for me and left me feeling sad and overwhelmed at just how horrible human nature can be. To be born in an unforgiving era…This book is a well-written and impressively researched but is more than a laid out set of facts. The author reflects on culture and historical issues relevant to the twins’ lives. The thought of ‘freak shows’ and how this is where the brothers “fit in” better was hard to read. They were born during a time of exploitation and phrenology trend in medicine was at its highest, and slavery in the United States was a way of life.I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through.I appreciated the author’s tone of voice and writing style. He executed the written language professionally and astutely.
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  • MAP
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway.Objectively, this is at least 4 star books. However, in terms of my personal enjoyment of it, 3 stars.This is truly a "the life and times of Chang and Eng" type of book, as opposed to a traditional biography. Although the book is centered on the brothers, much of the book focuses on the zeitgeist and context of the 19th century US that surrounded them. So an average chapter may have some information on say, the traveling route of the brothers, and the I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway.Objectively, this is at least 4 star books. However, in terms of my personal enjoyment of it, 3 stars.This is truly a "the life and times of Chang and Eng" type of book, as opposed to a traditional biography. Although the book is centered on the brothers, much of the book focuses on the zeitgeist and context of the 19th century US that surrounded them. So an average chapter may have some information on say, the traveling route of the brothers, and then branch off into other people who would have been also traveling along the same routes, or descriptions by various people about the conditions of the roads during that time, and that sort of thing. Mini-biographies of other noted people who either interacted with Chang and Eng or who would have been nearby or who simply expressed an interest in the brothers are scattered throughout (for example Mark Twain, PT Barnum, Edgar Allan Poe.)My main struggle with the book was that I enjoy biographies for the purposes of getting into the heads of the subjects of those biographies. Unfortunately, it appears Chang and Eng did not engage in much correspondence, and certainly did not appear to give candid interviews. Therefore, we ultimately get very little insight into the twins' personalities, likes/dislikes, etc. Much of the biographical content from the first 200 pages comes from financial ledgers - lists of where they went, how much they earned, and what they spent. So for me, the zeitgeist part always feels like padding when there's not enough biographical information to go around. (I know that "life and times" biographies are perfectly legitimate and a valid form of biography; it's just than whenever I encounter them hoping for a more traditional biography, my emotional reaction is to feel annoyed at the times to life ratio.)If you are someone who genuinely enjoys "life and times of" type biographies, then this is an incredibly well-written book. If you prefer more personal looks at the subjects, you may find this book wanting.
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  • Betty
    January 1, 1970
    excellent - very interesting, especially with the background added.
  • David
    January 1, 1970
    This was a Great book to read. I have always been fascinated with the Siamese twins since I was a little boy. I did not know that they lived in the North Carolina by Mayberry where the Andy Griffith show took place.this is a 5 star book.
  • Joy Adams
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book .non fiction is my favorite genre of books .Many years ago I remember reading a book on these twins . I read this while in the hospital with a broken leg .It helped to take my mind off the pain.
  • Jodi
    January 1, 1970
    This was another of my Goodreads Giveaways wins, and it was definitely an eye-opener. I knew a little about the lives of the famous twins, but, this well researched and well written book gave me a much broader window into their lives and their time period than I had before. I had no idea that Chang and Eng were partly Chinese (through their mother), or that they lived in Siam in the time period of the "King and I", as related in the book and musical. I have always been interested in the Civil Wa This was another of my Goodreads Giveaways wins, and it was definitely an eye-opener. I knew a little about the lives of the famous twins, but, this well researched and well written book gave me a much broader window into their lives and their time period than I had before. I had no idea that Chang and Eng were partly Chinese (through their mother), or that they lived in Siam in the time period of the "King and I", as related in the book and musical. I have always been interested in the Civil War era and have read many books about it - I didn't realize that these brothers and their families lived in the thick of the war and that some of their children actually fought on the side of the Confedracy, or that they actually owned slaves themselves - ironic in the face of their past history when they were bought from their mother by Capt. Coffin and made to tour and perform for many years. Which brought me to the biggest surprise (for me) in the book - during those travels as "freaks of nature" and "oddities", the twins traveled through my home state, Ohio, and in fact, appeared in my hometown of Zanesville, and many other stops I am well acquainted with. The second biggest surprise was that the twins, when they "retired" from the road, settled down in the hills of North Carolina, in Mt. Airy, which was the model for "Mayberry" and the setting of The Andy Griffith Show - the town celebrates that much more than it does their more remote past, and the Bunker twins' lives there in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One out-of-the-way room in the museum and one lane at the Mayberry Campground (which is built on land owned by the Bunkers and their family, and where family members still reside) seem to be the sole markers, other than their headstone, to indicate that the famous twins lived the largest part of their lives there in the hills and valleys of the area, both mocked and celebrated for their own "otherness". The final part of the book, dealing with the death of the twins and the squabble that broke out over who would get "possession" of the remains to autopsy (and the fear on their families' parts that they would be embalmed and stuffed and put on display again) was very sad, and a window into that era's thirst for knowledge about the hidden recesses of the human body, or, in this case, bodies. All in all, this was a fascinating peek into the era and the lives of these men who, due to an accident of birth, became "celebrities" through no fault of their own.
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  • Diane Hernandez
    January 1, 1970
    Meticulously researched biography about the world’s most famous conjoined twins. Chang and Eng were joined by a small tube of skin and shared a liver. Today they would have been separated soon after birth. In the early 1800s, they were purchased from their Chinese/Siamese mother for $500. They were shipped to America in steerage while their owners cruised first-class. The twins were shown around America and briefly England as both racially curiosities and freaks while living as basically propert Meticulously researched biography about the world’s most famous conjoined twins. Chang and Eng were joined by a small tube of skin and shared a liver. Today they would have been separated soon after birth. In the early 1800s, they were purchased from their Chinese/Siamese mother for $500. They were shipped to America in steerage while their owners cruised first-class. The twins were shown around America and briefly England as both racially curiosities and freaks while living as basically property of their owners. Eventually, taking control of their life, they marry American sisters and have 21 children. They also purchase some slaves of their own.Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History does a great job of setting the scene in early America. It relates politics, demographics and culture of each year as the twins travel around the US. The twins’ story is inspiring. Going from slaves to slave owners while being obviously different from all around them is a testament to their intelligence and work ethic if not their morality. Times were different back then and the author tries to place their decisions within the culture of the times.I enjoyed Inseparable hugely. It reads like fiction despite being fully developed from contemporaneous sources. This book contains so much history, it would also be a good resource for authors writing historical fiction in the same time period. 5 stars!Thanks to the publisher, Liveright, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    Nice read about the " Siamese Twins ". They weren't the world's first siamese twins, but were the first to be exploited that's for sure. They were plucked from the Mekong River Delta area of Siam ( today's Thailand ) by a profiteer Scotsman who wanted to exploit their uniqueness or ' freakness ' depending on whom you speak with. At the age of 18 they first toured the U.K. and then the eastern U.S. with their shows. About 5 yrs. later on they rebelled from slavemaster, so to speak and became inde Nice read about the " Siamese Twins ". They weren't the world's first siamese twins, but were the first to be exploited that's for sure. They were plucked from the Mekong River Delta area of Siam ( today's Thailand ) by a profiteer Scotsman who wanted to exploit their uniqueness or ' freakness ' depending on whom you speak with. At the age of 18 they first toured the U.K. and then the eastern U.S. with their shows. About 5 yrs. later on they rebelled from slavemaster, so to speak and became independent performers. Interesting read about their lives in terms of racism and their unusual condition. They were part Chinese/Thai who eventually married two Caucasian sisters and sired a brood of 21 youngin's - go figure ?!
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    From their birthplace in Siam through the Civil War to touring with P.T. Barnum and others, this is an interesting biography of Chang and Eng Bunker. At times a bit long and meandering, at times shocking (they owned slaves!), but mostly fascinating. And yes, even The Andy Griffith Show prominently finds its way into the story.
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  • cat
    January 1, 1970
    Ever since my trip to the Mutter Museum of Medical Abnormalities in Philly back in the early 2000's, I have been interested in learning more about the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker - lives that are very well documented in this biography. It was engaging - and actually even read like narrative fiction at points.
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  • Mike Schimmel
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating, but somewhat padded. The author spends a lot of time presenting historical context, all of which is interesting, but not always central to the story. Actually his narrative referred so often to a similar accounting of the twins by Irving Wallace and his daughter, Amy, that I ended up more interested in that book than this one. Still, this book is entertaining, and I recommend it.
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating read, covering biography, US and Asian history (esp. pre-Civil War era), a thoughtful analysis of the influence of race and immigration, PT Barnum, and even a connection to the Andy Griffith show. Highly recommend; I would like to read more by this author (esp. his award-winning book "Charlie Chan")
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  • Héctor Sánchez Castañeda
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating trek through Eng and Chang Bunker's life (or lives?). Inseparable from birth, the twins grew up along with America; Dr. Yunte Huang weaves the twins's story and the era's major historical events masterfully.
  • Jessie Springs
    January 1, 1970
    Quite an astonishing and moving story
  • Thea Marlowe
    January 1, 1970
    Book ok, but a little too much history, less about twins.
  • Shawn
    January 1, 1970
    Very interesting. I’ve always been fascinated by Chang and Eng since I was very young. My great-Grandpop had an old Circus book that had photos and etchings of them.
  • Marianne
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars.
  • Kaleen
    January 1, 1970
    A very well researched and fun look at the Siamese Twins. I liked this book and found it very entertaining and informative.
  • Cavak
    January 1, 1970
    I was vaguely aware of the twins because I read The Chinese in America: A Narrative History beforehand. While Chang's narrative offered a general overview of their lives in service to a grim irony of racial prejudices towards Chinese immigrants in American history, Huang's take is vibrant and clever—quite like the twins' famous showmanship. I have found myself smirking to the humor written in the face of the era's insensitivity or adversity. It's like Mel Brooks's M.O.: get your revenge throug I was vaguely aware of the twins because I read The Chinese in America: A Narrative History beforehand. While Chang's narrative offered a general overview of their lives in service to a grim irony of racial prejudices towards Chinese immigrants in American history, Huang's take is vibrant and clever—quite like the twins' famous showmanship. I have found myself smirking to the humor written in the face of the era's insensitivity or adversity. It's like Mel Brooks's M.O.: get your revenge through comedy. Of course, to properly set up the punchline, Huang takes careful consideration to set the scene for each chapter. He is detailed about the racism and tragedies that occurred in his coverage of the twins' legacy, including aspects which may not be expected like a brief history of Siam for the twins' childhood and paranoia caused by Nat Turner's rebellion in their adulthood as self-made men. Even coverage of them within the entertainment world is thrown into the mix, with snippets from fictional and non-fictional interpretations from both old and new. Although he does cite historical accounts to fill in the gaps, it's heartening to know that Huang adds the hot topics for speculation regarding the twins—like how the conjoined twins fared when one was ill, if they were accepted as two or one individual, or what they did when they fathered two different families in two different households.It's fascinating to read about how much the twins have influenced the lexicon of North America, even long after their deaths. Huang highlights the curious juxtapositions he encounters in his research with a charming rhythm. And it gets appropriately uncomfortable with touching upon the criticisms, flaws, or realities of their wealth. The honesty is a wonderful break from something that may otherwise seem to be a memoriam of personal adoration for two celebrities.Inseparable is a wordy and lengthy book that I enjoyed reading. Unless you are an absolute fan of the twins like Huang or a 1800s North American history nut, chances are that you'll probably learn something new. Give it a try if you like narrative history.I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.
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