Arts & Culture

From Novelist to Expert

Some years ago, I wrote a book called Chang & Eng about the famous "Siamese" twins. This month, in London, an 18-year-old named Laura Williams gave birth to her daughters Faith and Hope – two attached sisters; Hope died on Tuesday night after an operation … Read More

By / December 10, 2008

Some years ago, I wrote a book called Chang & Eng about the famous "Siamese" twins.

This month, in London, an 18-year-old named Laura Williams gave birth to her daughters Faith and Hope – two attached sisters; Hope died on Tuesday night after an operation to seperate them. (Hope’s lungs ended up being too small; she couldn’t breathe after the separation.)

It’s terrible, it’s unimaginably sad, and I thought it had nothing to do with me.

But last Friday, I got a call from a BBC show called Five Live. They wanted me to go on the air to talk about the intricacies of seperation, the psychic toll conjoined twinship can have, etc.

The producer called me and said: "I want to get one thing straight before we interview you. Are you an expert on conjoined twins?"

"No," I said. "I just wrote a novel about some guys from Siam."

The sound of him scratching his chin 5,000 miles away crinkled through my cell headset.

"Right," he said. "Can we have you on, anyway?"

Now, I have what my grandfather called a Yiddisha Kup – a Jewish brain. In other words, I don’t like to turn down a buinsess opportunity. The BBC! My new book, More Than It Hurts You, is set to come out in England and Europe in February! But this is a little girl’s death we’re talking about. And I’m not an expert: just a fiction writer.

"I have to tell you I’m a little uncomfortable about this,"  I said.  

"Well," he said. "You’ve been on with us before."

This was true. Ever since I wrote Chang & Eng, whenever some set of conjoined twins, somewhere, has made the news, I get a phone call. And so I was on BBC’s Five Live once before; it had been the most surreal thing. I’d been on my phone in New York; the interviewer was calling from London, and – sitting in Texas – they had one member of a set of adult conjoined twins on, too. (The other sister refused to participate.) The host had badgered the twin who had agreed to talk, making fun of her because she and her sister had chosen not to try to separate ("Why don’t you want to try? Aren’t you miserable living like that?").  I ended up defending the sister (Lori Schappell) from the interviwer.* After the show, Lori told me she gives my book out to friends, which seemed like the best review I ever got.

Anyway, getting back to this week.

I decided to do the interview, as long as I wouldn’t have to talk about the morality or the science of separation. "I’ll go on if I can talk about Chang & Eng, but i don’t want to profit off the tragedy of this family."

"Sure, sure," the BBC said. (And it has a very stuffy bristish accent, the BBC.)

"So," the interviewer said, first thing. "What do you think of the moral decision by the mother to seperate those girls?"

I muttered something about sadness, about the impossibility of putting oneself in another’s shoes. They seemed okay with it, and I hung up, feeling pretty bad about myself.

I find it amazing that I get to be an expert, just because I wrote a novel. It’s like interviewing George Lucas about the physics of warp speed travel. Oh, well. Like my grandfather would have said, maybe I made a few sales.

 

*Their story is very interesting. The Schappel twins (I think they’re Jewish) were born attached at the head. Lori works part-time in a hospital laundry; her sister George is a country singer; she won the L.A. Music Award for Best New Country Artist in 1997. She has performed in Germany and Japan, as well as all over the U.S. They live about as separate lives as possible. I am not making this up.

Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.