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God's Fool

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Paperback published by Vintage (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

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About This Book
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.
Show less
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.
Product Details
Paperback (288 pages)
Published: July 8, 2003
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Vintage
ISBN: 9780375702099
Other books byMark Slouka
  • The Visible World

    The Visible World
    A Novel
    An immensely moving, powerfully romantic novel about the vagaries of love and the legacy of war, The Visible World is narrated by the American-born son of Czech immigrants. His New York childhood, lived in a boisterous community of the displaced, is suffused with stories: fragments of European history, Czech fairy tales, and family secrets gleaned from overheard conversations. Central in his young imagination is the heroic account of the seven Czech parachutists who, in 1942, assassinated a high-ranking Nazi. Yet one essential story has always evaded him: his mother's. He suspects she had a great wartime love, the loss of which bred a sadness that slowly engulfed her. As an adult, the narrator travels to Prague, hoping to piece together her hidden past.

    Lost Lake

    Lost Lake
    Stories
    In twelve beautifully imagined stories linked by character and setting, Mark Slouka chronicles three generations of men and women under the spell of a landscape with a powerful history. Set in a tiny Czech community on the shore’s of upstate New York’s Lost Lake, these elegiac stories explore both the quiet, complicated glory of the natural world and the mysterious motions of the human spirit. In “Genesis,” an inspired young war veteran envisions his legacy in a modest pasture. In “The Shape of Water,” a boy’s recollection of a momentous catch occasions a later reflection on the power of invented truths. In “The Exile,” a young woman struggles unsuccessfully against an adulterous passion. Through them all, Lost Lake emerges as a place of both epic significance and enduring simplicity, prompting memories both challenging and bittersweet.

    Brewster

    Brewster
    A Novel
    The year is 1968. The world is changing, and sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher is determined to change with it. Racked by guilt over his older brother’s childhood death and stuck in the dead-end town of Brewster, New York, he turns his rage into victories running track. Meanwhile, Ray Cappicciano, a rebel as gifted with his fists as Jon is with his feet, is trying to take care of his baby brother while staying out of the way of his abusive, ex-cop father. When Jon and Ray form a tight friendship, they find in each other everything they lack at home, but it’s not until Ray falls in love with beautiful, headstrong Karen Dorsey that the three friends begin to dream of breaking away from Brewster for good. Freedom, however, has its price. As forces beyond their control begin to bear down on them, Jon sets off on the race of his life—a race to redeem his past and save them all.

    Essays from the Nick of Time

    Essays from the Nick of Time
    Reflections and Refutations
    A new collection of prophetic essays from one of the sharpest practitioners of the form Mark Slouka writes from a particular vantage point, one invoked by Thoreau, who wished “to improve the nick of time . . . to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future.” At this bewildering convergence, Slouka asks us to consider what it means to be human and what we must revive, or reject, in order to retain our humanity in the modern world. Collected over fifteen years, these essays include fascinating explorations of the relationship between memory and history and the nature of “tragedy” in a media-driven culture; meditations on the transcendent “wisdom” of the natural world and the role of silence in an age of noise; and arguments in defense of the political value of leisure time and the importance of the humanities in an age defined by the language of science and industry. Written in Slouka’s supple and unerring prose, celebratory, critical, and passionate, Essays from the Nick of Time reawakens us to the moment and place in which we find ourselves, caught between the fading presence of the past and the neon lure of the future.

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