Conjoined twins in the Soviet Union face loneliness and alienation in Eliseev’s debut novel.
Faith and Hope were born anatomically attached at the hip—a sight so shocking that the midwife who delivered them fainted. Their mother was so horrified that she was persuaded by a nurse to sign their death certificate and give them away to scientists; the father—away on business—was informed of their passing by telegram. First, they were studied as scientific anomalies, but eventually they attended a special boarding school. Later, they moved to a foster home for disabled children, where they suffered grim indignities and grotesque mistreatment. When one sick child at the home dies of illness as a result of utter neglect, the attendants treat the rest of the kids like they’re prisoners doing penance. The pair become intoxicated with the possibility of a surgical separation, and they eventually escape in the hope of finding a doctor willing to perform the procedure—one that would likely kill one of them. On their own, they soon suffer extraordinary cruelty; at one point, a truck driver picks them up as hitchhikers and brutally rapes them. Homeless, penniless, and ostracized from society, they’re reduced to panhandling as they set out to find the mother they never knew. Hope becomes suicidal as the two yearn to lead a normal life, free of deprivation. Author Eliseev unflinchingly limns the psychological nuances of the twins’ predicament, showing that despite their intimate connection, each longs to be free: “I often wondered what it would be like—having your own body, going where you wanted, doing what you liked doing,” Faith thinks. “How does it feel not being the hostage of somebody else, even if it is your closest and dearest relative?” Eliseev’s prose is straightforward and appropriately childlike, and Faith’s wisdom and anguish are heart-rending. As she narrates the story in the first person, her emotional range swings from endearingly optimistic to despairing. The backdrop of the tale—set in the twilight years of the USSR—vividly depicts the social dysfunction of a so-called “normal” society of “one-headed” people.
An original, painful tale of youthful isolation.