That they would eventually identify as part of the white oppressor class that dehumanized others is one of many paradoxes explored by Huang in this contemplative yet engrossing volume ... Chang and Eng became an immediate national sensation, giving Huang a bounty of sources from which to choose when tracing the contours of their story ... he twins did seem determined to be identified as Southern gentry. In addition to owning slaves, they supported the Whigs and became ardent supporters of the Confederacy, sending two of their sons to fight in the Civil War. Huang is right to point out the cruel irony in all of this, but when he characterizes his subjects as 'two brothers formerly sold into indentured servitude and treated no better than slaves,' he inadvertently downplays the incomparable brutality of the slaveholding system in order to heighten the contradictions ... Huang writes movingly about the twins’ painful end in 1874, when Chang, a heavy drinker, died and the teetotaling Eng perished soon after.
Yunte Huang’s Inseparable is a whirligig vision of nineteenth-century America, the portrait of a young democracy as it saw and was seen by its most unusual citizens ... a learned romp more guided by than limited to the story of Chang and Eng ... One of Inseparable’s thrills is the deftness of Huang’s associative leaps. Each chapter is a crank of the kaleidoscope, placing Chang and Eng at the heart of an ever-changing matrix. Digression is the rule; world events scroll past in panoramic miniature ... Huang’s clear affection for the twins enlivens his account of their independence ... Huang is unfortunately fuzzy about the moral implications. Though he doesn’t omit the known details... he repeatedly insists on a misleading symmetry between the twins’ experience and that of their captives ... For all Inseparable’s narrative exuberance and delightful, Melvillean erudition, it left me wondering about the twins’ hustle—their motives, means, and the social forces that governed their lifelong game.
...an excellent addition to a shelf of books on the lives and cultural afterlives of the Siamese Twins ... Along the way, Huang offers something of a master class in how to turn notations in a financial ledger into an outline of cultural history ... Learned and playful, Inseparable draws on Huang’s personal experiences and his astonishing literary and historical knowledge.
In the hands of Yunte Huang, however, Chang and Eng’s story becomes more than a biography. Inseparable is a thoughtful, scholarly, wide-ranging meditation on what it means to be human ... 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.
Inseparable, Yunte Huang’s exuberant and vivid account of the 'original Siamese twins,' examines 19th century American attitudes toward race and sex that resonate today — a time when immigrants, people of color, those with disabilities and others are denied their stories and denied their humanity ... A century and a half later, in the 1990s, a benevolent clerk in Alabama issued a business license to Huang, then 'a struggling foreign student' who wanted to open a Chinese restaurant ... he [Huang] recounted how, as a child in China, he used to fantasize about living in a house on wheels, and when he arrived in America, such vehicles continued to fascinate him ... By sharing his own experiences, he reveals the poignant commonalities of immigrants across time and place, strangers making sense of a strange land, determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.
Mr. Huang does an excellent job in depicting an antebellum America hungry for diversion from the brewing conflict over constitutional slavery. His descriptions of the New York City of that era, and of the show-business personalities the twins met (including Barnum), are raffish and vivid. And the great question he poses is compelling: Were Chang and Eng 'freaks' due only to their physical appearance? Or were they also freaks due to their race? ... Mr. Huang is less successful in depicting the two men as individuals ... Despite its shortcomings, Inseparable is a compelling study, and its author is unafraid of enlivening his narrative with a playful intelligence, an attractive humor, and incidents of his own life as an Asian American living in the South.
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 ... Inseparable is an engaging look at the lives of two singular people.
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 ... The lives of Chang and Eng brilliantly shine here.