A MATCH MADE IN HELL
Girl’s conjoined twin a psychopath
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