Release date: 05/01/2002
Siamese twins Chang and Eng, who caused a sensation 160 years ago, when they were exhibited by P.T. Barnum, still hold a mysterious fascination—Slouka's version of their story is the second novel dedicated to their vicissitudes in the last two years (the other being Darin Strauss's Chang and Eng). Chang, at the beginning of the book, is in his declining years. He and Eng have become sworn enemies—at one point they even try to kill one another. Their enmity comes after they retire from Barnum's American Museum and buy a plantation, with its complement of slaves, in North Carolina, and Eng, much to Chang's chagrin, becomes a fundamentalist Christian. While Eng approves of Chang's marital relations with his wife, Addy, both brothers remember Chang's first affair: it was in Paris, their first season in Europe, with Sophia Marchant, a famous beauty. Chang's memories move toward her and away, as he trawls his past, going back to his and Eng's first astonishing appearance in the world (at the sight of the two, their mother's midwives fled). From a Siamese notoriety—the king of Siam's astrologers took their birth as an evil omen—they move to Europe, under the aegis of Robert Hunter, an opium trader and impresario. Slouka, a gifted stylist, eschews much of the freak-show energy that thrust Chang and Eng onto the stage of world history, in favor of an alluring balance between the elegiac and the ironic. National advertising; author tour. (May 23)
FYI:Slouka's critically acclaimed short story collection, Lost Lake, is out in paperback from Vintage.