A MATCH MADE IN HELL

Girl’s con­joined twin a psy­chopath

Ottawa Citizen - - OBSERVER - JAMIE PORTMAN

Af­ter her sis­ter had fin­ished LON­DON beat­ing her, 11-year-old Dasha was des­per­ate to deal with her nose bleed, fear­ing reprisals from hospi­tal staff if blood was dis­cov­ered on her bed sheets. But at least the phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment was over: Her sis­ter, Masha, had fi­nally gone to sleep af­ter scream­ing at Dasha that she wanted to kill her — and then at­tempt­ing to do so.

And Dasha, who loved her sib­ling dearly, had re­sponded in her usual way — “I do what I al­ways do and lie back as far as I can with my hands over my face.”

This har­row­ing mo­ment oc­curs early in Juliet But­ler’s mes­mer­iz­ing new book, The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep, pub­lished by Harper­Collins. The story it tells is heart­break­ing.

Dasha and Masha Krivoshlya­pova were not merely twin sis­ters. They were con­joined twins, born in the Soviet Union at a time when Josef Stalin still ruled and when “freaks” like them would be locked away out of sight and sub­jected to sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment.

The ul­ti­mate hor­ror of their story was that they could never be sep­a­rated and that their per­son­al­i­ties were so shock­ingly dif­fer­ent.

Their quest for some sort of shared hap­pi­ness was doomed be­cause the gen­tle, docile Dasha was for­ever con­nected to a sis­ter who was a rag­ing psy­chopath.

But­ler, a veteran Bri­tish jour­nal­ist who lived in the Soviet Union for many years and knew the sis­ters well in their later life, says their real tragedy lies in the fact that from birth they were “two po­lar­ized peo­ple … one dom­i­nant and one sub­mis­sive … a psy­chopath and a code­pen­dent.”

In other words, a match made in hell.

“I knew so much about Soviet Rus­sia that I wasn’t sur­prised that they had been taken away and sub­jected to lab ex­per­i­ments … even though it was med­i­cal tor­ture,” But­ler says.

“But what re­ally af­fected me as I got to know them was just re­al­iz­ing that Dasha was such a nice, sweet per­son.”

Yet this gen­tle soul was doomed to spend ev­ery sec­ond of her life with a patho­log­i­cally pos­ses­sive mon­ster.

But­ler was in­trigued to dis­cover that the mother of the twins had Dasha’s tem­per­a­ment, while the fa­ther was like Masha.

“Theirs was a ter­ri­ble re­la­tion­ship, and now we have these two sis­ters locked to­gether in a night­mare of a ‘mar­riage’ — which Masha wanted and Dasha didn’t. Masha wanted to be with Dasha, who was there­fore never able to be­come her own per­son.”

So Dasha ran the con­stant risk of be­ing beaten black and blue for try­ing to do some­thing her sis­ter didn’t want to do.

“I could eas­ily see that Dasha’s bone struc­ture was dif­fer­ent,” But­ler says. “She’d had some bro­ken bones in her face, and it was hor­rific to think of how that hap­pened.”

The 58-year-old jour­nal­ist is dis­cussing her new book over lunch in a Chelsea restau­rant and pon­der­ing the mys­tery of con­joined twins who can have to­tally dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties de­spite iden­ti­cal DNA and genes, as well as shar­ing the same body.

“It’s now ac­cepted by spe­cial­ists that iden­ti­cal twins can in­herit dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics,” says But­ler. “That’s fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause only a few years ago, no one thought that was pos­si­ble.”

But­ler first met the twins when they were 38 at a time. Their world was chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally. They had suc­ceeded in be­ing re­moved from a state asy­lum af­ter mak­ing an ap­peal on tele­vi­sion, and were try­ing to start a new life.

She col­lab­o­rated with them on their au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, pub­lished in Ger­many in 2000, three years be­fore the sis­ters died at the age of 53. But But­ler be­came con­sumed by the need to tell a fuller story, free from Masha’s con­trol.

The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep has been pub­lished as a novel. But it has the feel of a docu­d­rama, un­fold­ing against a background of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial up­heaval in Rus­sia. “And it’s all true,” its au­thor says. “I couldn’t have made it up.”

At one point, But­ler had toyed with the idea of each twin telling her story in al­ter­nat­ing chap­ters, but it wasn’t work­ing. Ul­ti­mately she de­cided to write in Dasha’s voice.

But­ler’s nat­u­ral sym­pa­thies were with Dasha, al­though she hadn’t im­me­di­ately un­der­stood the pathol­ogy of the twins’ re­la­tion­ship. She was aware that Masha, who could be out­wardly charm­ing and funny, al­ways seemed in con­trol — “but it took me six months to a year to un­der­stand what that meant.”

Dasha couldn’t re­ally con­fide her fears and feel­ings to any­one else, be­cause Masha was al­ways there. But­ler re­mem­bers try­ing to talk to Dasha while her sis­ter was asleep — but “Masha could wake up just like that.”

So how easy was it to be even­handed about these two sis­ters?

“To be hon­est, I didn’t like Masha at all,” But­ler says. “My hus­band was a pho­tog­ra­pher and he dis­liked her so much that he wouldn’t even come to take pic­tures of them.”

But for Dasha’s sake, But­ler forced her­self to be friendly to­ward Masha. “If you wanted to be friends with Dasha, you had to be nice to Masha be­cause Masha was in con­trol. Yet, in a way, theirs was a love story.”

But it was a twisted love story that de­prived Dasha of any op­por­tu­nity for a mean­ing­ful emo­tional re­la­tion­ship with some­one else.

In ado­les­cence, she be­came aware of her own sex­u­al­ity, and her thwarted af­fec­tion for a dis­abled boy named Slava pro­vides the story with some of its most poignant mo­ments be­cause of Masha’s hos­til­ity to­ward the very idea of her sis­ter as a sex­ual be­ing.

“Masha loved watch­ing films of beau­ti­ful women,” But­ler says. “And she flirted with men, al­though that was just a way of be­ing charm­ing. I think she re­ally was asex­ual.

“She didn’t want sex, but Dasha was very sex­ual.”

Dasha, un­ful­filled emo­tion­ally, drifted into al­co­holism as the years passed.

In April 2003, Masha died a day af­ter com­plain­ing of back pain. Dasha died 17 hours later of blood poi­son­ing from the tox­ins in her sis­ter’s corpse. But­ler sees her story as a tragedy of what might have been.

“Dasha had her dreams, She was so in­tel­li­gent and emo­tion­ally alive.

“She was sen­si­tive, But she re­al­ized she would al­ways have to give in to her sis­ter.”

It’s now ac­cepted by spe­cial­ists that iden­ti­cal twins can in­herit dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics. That’s fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause only a few years ago, no one thought that was pos­si­ble. JULIET BUT­LER

PHO­TOS: HARPER­COLLINS CANADA

Con­joined twins Dasha, left, and Masha Krivoshlya­pova, seen at age five, are the sub­ject of Juliet But­ler’s new book.

Con­joined twins Masha, left, and Dasha Krivoshlya­pova are seen with jour­nal­ist and au­thor Juliet But­ler and her child, Sasha.

The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep Juliet But­ler Harper­Collins

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