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God's Fool

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Description

Born attached at the chest, Chang and Eng were considered a marvel, an omen, an act of God, evidence of His glory or proof of His wrath. Uniquely cursed, enslaved to one another for life, they were a joke of nature variously feared and abhorred, disturbing our most basic assumptions about the human condition. Mark Slouka’s dazzling achievement in God’s Fool is the ease and compassion with which he draws the story of one human being from this ghastly predicament. Looking beyond the twins’ physical connection, he imagines one man’s life of ordinary grace and suffering, longing and resistance, and the ties of love, as well as of blood, that bind and redeem us all.

By any standard, theirs is a history of epic variety and drama. Their birth, to an illiterate fishmonger, sent midwives screaming from the room. Condemned to death, they survived to be brought, at the age of thirteen, to the Royal Palace in Bangkok for an audience with King Rama III. At seventeen, laboring as merchants on the Meklong River, they saw their world erased by a typhoon. Consigned for three hundred pounds to an opium trader by their mother, who was desperate to ensure their survival, they sailed for Europe. There they entertained kings and counselors in salons and drawing rooms from Brussels to Rome, and, in Paris, met the woman who would divide them as no surgeon ever could.

When the culture that had lifted them up inevitably cast them down, they landed in the flophouses of London, where, penniless and starving, they were discovered by Phineas T. Barnum, who packed them off to America along with an assortment of bearded ladies and two-headed calves, albino beauties and dog boys, German midgets and twelve-fingered flute players. Leaving Barnum at the height of their fame to take a last stab at normal life, they settled in North Carolina, where, despite the tensions growing between them, they found, for a time, tranquillity as farmers and slave owners, marrying a pair of sisters and fathering, between them, twenty children. Their peace, however, would prove to be short-lived. As the Civil War drew closer, and their world began to tilt, they would first turn against each other and then, faced with a trial unlike any they
had ever known, draw together once more. No longer young, they set off to find the war, and to save what could be saved. It would be there, on that very real battlefield, that Chang would enact his final, terrifying battle with fate.

Sweeping and intimate, vibrant and austere, God’s Fool is a novel of soaring ambition and accomplishment from a fiercely gifted storyteller.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 22, 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. FYI:Slouka's critically acclaimed short story collection,LostLake, is out in paperback from Vintage.
God's Fool
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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Historical
  • Published: May 14, 2002
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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