The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History

Yunte Huang (Author, University of California, Santa Barbara)

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Overview | Formats

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist (Biography)
New York Times Critics’ Best of the Year
One of NPR's Great Reads of 2018
A Newsweek Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

With wry humor, Shakespearean profundity, and trenchant insight, Yunte Huang brings to life the story of America’s most famous nineteenth-century Siamese twins.

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 twenty-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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover, Rough Front - Edge: Deckle, Feather, Uncut
  • April 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-87140-447-3
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 416 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverInseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History


Endorsements & Reviews

“After years of showcased servitude, the original 'Siamese twins' Chang and Eng Bunker settled down in small-town North Carolina and adopted the lives of 19th-century Southern gentry — identifying with the white oppressor class, in other words, fathering at least 21 children between them, owning slaves and sending their sons to fight for the Confederacy. Huang is attuned to the ironies of their story in his incisive and riveting account.” — New York Times, "Times Critics' Top Books of 2018"

“Excellent.... Mr. Huang compellingly makes his case that racism was a factor in these two self-made gentlemen land owners still being considered, late in life, as nothing more than a Barnumesque “freak show”.... It’s not difficult to find in this, as Mr. Huang most definitely does, a comment on the times in which we live.” — Melanie Benjamin, Wall Street Journal

“In the follow-up to his Edgar Award-winning Charlie Chan biography, Huang uncovers ironies, paradoxes and examples of how Chang and Eng subverted what Leslie Fiedler called ‘the tyranny of the normal.” — Jane Ciabattari, BBC

“Engrossing.... give[s] an unvarnished look at the degradation and disparagement the brothers had to endure.” — Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

“Chang and Eng waltzed, arm and arm, indivisible, across a brutally divided America. Huang's spellbinding account tells their story with a complexity, and sensitivity, with which it has never been told before.” — Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Inseparable tells an astonishing story, by turns ghastly, hilarious, unnerving, and moving. Huang is a dazzling writer, bold, energetic, and intellectually alert. His gripping account of the lives of the celebrated Siamese twins Cheng and Eng not only richly illuminates the past of P.T. Barnum and Mark Twain but also probes the racial and sexual politics of the present.” — Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve

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.... By sharing his own experiences, [Yuang] 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.” — Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle

“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.” — Bookpage

“Moving, wise, and wide-ranging, Inseparable is the poignant story of what it means to live in a diverse culture that strains after uniformity. As in Charlie Chan, Yunte Huang has once again found a perfect subject -- perfectly commensurate with his sympathy for American history and the American compulsion to stereotype that which it fails to understand. And so elegantly written, it's impossible to put down.” — Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877

“Excellent.... a complex literary history that mirrors the global story of meetings between east and west. Huang knows the treacherous racial terrain behind the meetings of facts and fictions in American culture [and] the place of “race” in every rendezvous with American history. Learned and playful, Inseparable draws on Huang’s personal experiences and his astonishing literary and historical knowledge.” — Ann Fabian, National Book Review

Also by Yunte Huang All

  1. Book CoverThe Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature: Writings from the Mainland in the Long Twentieth Century


  2. Book CoverCharlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History