Based on the true story of conjoined Russian twins, Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova,this is a tale of survival and self-determination, innocence and lies.
Dasha cannot imagine life without her sister. Masha is feisty and fearless. Dasha is gentle, quiet and fears everything; from the Soviet scientists who study them, to the other ‘defective’ children who bully them and the ‘healthies’ from whom they must be locked away.
For the twins have been born conjoined in a society where flaws must be hidden from sight and where their inseparability is the most terrible flaw of all.
Through the seismic shifts of Stalin’s communism to the beginnings of Putin’s democracy, Dasha and her irrepressible sister strive to be more than just ‘the together twins’, finding hope – and love – in the unlikeliest of places.
But will their quest for shared happiness always be threatened by the differences that divide them? And can a life lived in a sister’s shadow only ever be half a life?
1. What do you think of the book’s title? What does it say about the book as a whole? And do you agree with this common Russian saying?
2. What was the most heartbreaking incident in the novel? And the most uplifting?
3. The novel is written in the present tense despite being set in historical times. Was this effective or not? In what way?
4. How far do you think the treatment of the twins in early childhood by Soviet scientists affected their later relationship and why?
5. Masha is a controlling bully but what redeeming qualities does she have and did you like her in any way?
6. Before the twins met Juliet, they did not even know what the word ‘conjoined’ meant. What was interesting about the way Dasha viewed her and Masha’s shared body? How do the characters change as they become more aware of their own bodies?
7. Dasha wanted readers to see that ‘defectives’ are no different from ‘healthies’? Did she succeed? Has your attitude to the disabled changed after reading the novel?
8. This book is based on a true story and written by a good friend of the twins. Did it bother you that you didn’t know for sure what was fact and what was fiction? Did you research their true life story?
9. The book is a fictionalized account of Masha and Dasha’s life. Why do you think the author decided to tell their story this way, rather than as a more straightforward biography? What is gained from this approach, and what might be lost?
10. Does Dasha love Masha or not? How do you know? Does Masha love Dasha or is she incapable of real love?
11. Was it a good narrative ploy to start the book with the death of the twins or a bad one?
12. In what ways did it give you an insight into Russia and the Russian people?
13. Is the voice the narrator uses for Dasha from the age of 6 to 53 convincing/authentic throughout?
14. How far did the perspective of the secluded twins cast a light on the general political history of Russia from Stalin through to Putin?
15. When you finished the book what was your overwhelming emotion?