The story of America's most famous nineteenth-century Siamese twins, 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, and went on to become wealthy celebrities in the Jacksonian US South.
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.