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review 2017-02-16 08:46
One-Two - Igor Eliseev

Originally posted here on August 11, 2016



Indeed for me, the right time did come when I read this book. Now, seeing as to how this is my second review (I'm no longer a virgin in this regard), I had trouble when it came to writing this. There were too many quotes which I absolutely loved (so I'll string some along in the review before I get to the last portion) and it was pretty hard to decide where to start. But here goes...

Let's start at the beginning. One-Two is set in the 1980s and 1990s of Russia, in the Soviet Union era and particularly during the Perestroika period. From the onset, this reminded me of my History lessons as a teenager, wistfully remembering how Mikhail Gorbachev in the Cold War wished to restructure (the meaning of Perestroika) the Soviet political and economic system within the Communist Party. Perestroika was one of the causes for the dissolution of the USSR. A memorable quote from One-Two author, Igor Eliseev, which showcases this time period within the story, is:

"People are strange and incomprehensible. Once they are forbidden from doing something, they revolt, grow loud and unrestricted in their hate."

Faith and Hope are conjoined twins with Faith being the narrator as she speaks to her twin, Hope. I found this particularly refreshing as to how intriguing the story played out. Faith and Hope are the main protagonists and they come to meet a host of friendly and at times not-so-friendly characters along the way. The main antagonists in my humble opinion as a reader, are the emotions of despair, alcoholism, and the dire physical and emotional abuse treated towards them by all and sundry, in their heartbreaking journey where they wish to some day become surgically separated. Don't get me wrong however; this is a genius novel, a psychological literary drama that shall pull at all your heartstrings. But don't let that detract you from enjoying it as there are beautiful moments within, all the way to such a realistic ending, I actually felt like clapping my hands at the end of it and raising a glass of kosher whiskey.

From the beginning, Faith seems to me the weaker of the twins, finding strength in Hope until the closing parts of the story, where Faith has grown to be the stronger. At the start of the novel, the young girls face a trying time at the foster home. One of my memorable quotes there was:

"The principal gave us a sharp look that immediately accused us of all our past wrong-doings and of our future ones, too, including, first and foremost, the fact that we had the audacity to be born..."

This to me set the tone of the book and the hardships that Faith and Hope shall endure in their life, and that they only have each other to rely on.

The girls are all but children, but the way Faith approaches life, at times sardonically dark with a poetic sense of humour mixed in, gives one the feeling that she is wise beyond her years, and not in a way that children should be. Hardened to life and accepting her fate in it, another memorable quote that Igor Eliseev, the fantastic author of One-Two, displays is:

"It sometimes feels like you and I are at the movie theater, sitting next to each other and watching the same movie. People say something, argue incessantly, even fight, but it is all somewhere else, somewhere far away, on the other side of the screen, and we are just passive onlookers unable to affect the course of events."

I shall be honest in this review, as I always am. There are some truly depressing parts in the story where you feel so terrible for what Faith and Hope have to endure as they take you on their pursuit of surgically-separated-happiness, that you actually feel a pain, wondering how monstrous humans are capable of being. But through it all, their strength to survive, their strength to keep on moving, is both beautiful and poignant. As an example of their depths of despair, when the conjoined twins suffered one of their first major setbacks, Faith asked of Hope:

"Hope, tell me how it is possible that grief and happiness are scattered all over the world so unevenly? Why do some people get all the troubles and misfortunes while others are intoxicated with an abundance of material belongings, fat bellies and money? Why is there such injustice? Or, maybe, we are mistaken that it's unfair?"

And another philosophical quote which displays Faith's view of the world, through her young eyes,

"People have no limits either in love or in hatred. But is it their fault? They despise us because they are afraid, for we remind them that getting crippled or sick might happen to anyone; or, perhaps, the true reason for their hatred lies much deeper inside, stemming from a hidden ugliness in their souls?"

In overall, I enjoyed this literary masterpiece by a Russian author (Igor Eliseev) writing in English. One-Two is a tragic drama which though slow-moving, is entrancing with its prose and deep insights. More than once, uncountable really, it made me think of life and how I treat others less fortunate than myself (not that I was a bad person to begin with before you go there!) I do believe that reading this book once is definitely not enough, and I see myself reading it a few more times in my lifetime. Thank you, Igor Eliseev, in giving the world this amazing and extraordinary tale!

Would I recommend it? A billion times over!
Would I read it again? Over and over!
Would I recommend it to Lucy? I already did! A few times actually!

That's why I've given One-Two by Igor Eliseev a 5/5 rating! Now, do yourself a favour and go out there and grab yourselves a copy!

My Favourite Lines
"She spoke of our "ugliness" as though it was a normal, everyday occurrence, without any restriction on her choice of words." ----> OUCH! Imagine someone speaking of your physical appearance in such a manner? Not only that, but a full adult speaking to children. Heartbreaking.

"You usually lose your dearest people long before their deaths." ----> Such a philosophical quote and definitely one of my favourites. Not just in this story, but one generally for life.

"She spoke calmly, but her eyes flared with rage, looking even more beautiful than usual. For several moments, we were captivated by this look wondering how a perfectly evil spirit and beauty can combine in one person, harmonically supplementing the other." ----> THIS right here is why I love literary fiction. So much is said in so little words when describing one person. Excellent!

"...but the hardest thing is to face the choice between the unwillingness to live and the inability to die." ----> My oh my! Didn't I tell you Igor Eliseev is a genius? Sit down right now, if you aren't already doing so, and read that again.

"I looked down, hoping for a quick death but not wishing to die." ----> The desperation in this sentence...read the book and you'll understand why this quote is among my favourites.

"However, I don't claim to be an angel speaking the undeniable truth; these are just the ordinary thoughts of unordinary people among ordinary people." ----> I loved the way whilst reading this particularly part, I had to reread it a few times just to have it sink in. I know you did too ;)

"I lay motionless, feeling neither pain, nor fear, most probably the fear of pain." ----> Another memorable quote where you simply have to read the book to understand it fully. Beautiful writing no matter how you look at it.

"Life has its end, but death is limitless. We live for a short while and die for ever." ----> Sad but poetically perfect.

"What is so special about an extraordinary person? An extraordinary person helps to understand that every person is extraordinary." ----> This to me sums up the book at the end. Faith and Hope are extraordinary people and this brings light to the world. Everyone should be treated as extraordinary.

Source: www.markbenjaminbooks.com/my-journal/book-review-one-two
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review 2010-01-07 00:00
One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal
One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal - Alice Domurat Dreger I remember in my childhood a great variety of bodies and behaviors surrounding me at various events -- my dad taught special ed, and was very involved with different PTA and support groups, so we'd end up at fundraising carnivals, summer picnics, open houses. And there'd be kids playing who were three times my age but acted far younger, kids rolling chairs as well as running around, kids yelling inappropriately as well as appropriately. It didn't really hit me 'til a bit later that there was elsewhere, beyond the Fairs and picnics, a great social wall around certain of those differences -- some of us kids running around, spilling drinks, screaming get a free do-what-you-want-you-whippersnappers pass, even a rueful indulgent smile no matter where we ended up. Other of us kids got stares, or ignored, or rueful indulgent evocations of pity. Certain kinds of bodies, and certain kinds of behavior, marked certain kinds of kids as a certain kind of person. (The rest of us were just kids.)

So it's never been difficult for me to conceptualize disability as a social disorder -- a set of ideas and assumptions (and consequent practices and rules and systems) which produce a kind of person (the disabled) who we treat quite differently. I don't mean to imply that there is no physical or mental difference; but when I (a chubby kid) played little league, my teammates might be shorter, thinner, more adept with a mitt, fumbling and knock-kneed -- we were enormously different in our capabilities and our physical gifts. But such differences got maybe a small modifying tag (fat kid, good athlete, egghead), while other kinds of differences (like my cousin, who had trisomy 18, and a consequent set of physical and cognitive impairments) totally informed what strangers (and even relatives) "knew" about her. She was quickly summed up by a few physical and mental differences. Significant ones, sure--but why do *these* differences matter so much, become so salient (hell, more than salient--unavoidable, "natural," necessary) in our understanding of her identity?

I give this extended personal intro 'cause it echoes what Dreger does so well in this book -- through a focused study of various cases of conjoined twins, she critically and compassionately interrogates how our assumptions about anatomy inform (and deform, degrade, limit) our understanding of identity. Hers is the best kind of interdisciplinary argument, engaged at the crossroads of medicine, social history, cultural values, law, ethics, and personal accounts -- yet never blithely borrowing from fields to make a pre-determined case. Her careful and nuanced exploration of the questions one ought to ask about the issue of separating conjoined twins is fair, wide-ranging, and complex. Yet her writing style is not the kind of knotted garble too many of us in academic fields produce; she writes beautifully, clearly. And whether particularly invested in issues about conjoined twins or not, this book will provide all kinds of fascinating, useful challenges for thinking about the bodies all around you, and your own.

I must admit that some of what she said, some of the broader questions, some of the case studies, some of the critical arguments seemed familiar to me (and she cites a number of other works worth reading, too, that I happen to have read). So my star rating is perhaps a bit lower than it might otherwise be--my own familiarity very (very) slightly limited my appreciation of Dreger's work, if only because it wasn't as startling a set of questions as it might be for others, not as innovative a critical study. But it's particularly good at examining and challenging the medicalization of identity. And it's a great introductory reflection on the pretty new field of disability studies.

I might also point people toward Michael Berube's Life As We Know It, which is both memoir and lit/cultural theory, tackling some similar interdisciplinary questions but focused on Down's syndrome (which his son Jamie has).

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