With all the unsuccessful attempts to separate conjoined or “Siamese” twins in the news, this is a much-needed reference, collecting up all the historic accounts of conjoined twin and explaining the complicated Latin medical terms used to describe how and where they were joined.
While I am much more interested in death than “freaks,” I found this book very enjoyable reading. At first the encyclopedia format seemed a bit intimidating, but once I got started poking around, one entry led naturally to the next and I found large blocks of time passing. Perhaps I’m more interested in nature’s whimsy than I suspected.
A large part of that is Christine Quigley’s gentle hand on the material. She is very respectful of her subjects, humanizing them rather than gawking at their differences. Her empathy elicits our own.
One of my favorite entries in the book is the long article on Millie-Christine McKoy. Born into slavery in 1851, they were sold 10 months later and were put on display. (McKoy was their original owner’s last name, though he was not their father.) Before they were three years old, the girls had been abducted and taken to London – which turned out to be lucky for them, as the British courts did not recognize ownership of human beings. From that rocky beginning, the twins supported their parents and some siblings with the money they made by exhibiting themselves. They also organized a school for African-American children and donated money to local colleges.
Quigley points out, quite rightly, that conjoined twins have difficulty making a living (Lori and Reba Schappell’s work as a nurse-receptionist and country singer aside). By refusing to allow themselves to make money from exhibiting themselves as was done in the old days, society has forbidden them to support themselves. They are expected to appear on television or before the medical establishment out of good will, to allow themselves to be examined and stared at without recompense. It’s an issue I’d never considered before.
My main complaint with the book is its organization, which is not always intuitive. While you can turn to Chang and Eng in the text and be directed to an entry under Bunker, you are not similarly guided by looking up Lori and Dori. Their first names also do not appear in the index. You have to remember their last name in order to find them. The back cover text references the fictional twins created by Katherine Dunn, but neither her name nor Geek Love appears in the encyclopedia listings or in the index. When I was trying to find the incidence of occurrence of conjoined twins, it took me a while to think to look under “frequency.” I’m sure these are issues faced by any encyclopedia: you could cross-reference your text indefinitely. Still, they were a little frustrating.
This review originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #8.
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports