Newest Review: ... into existence and how the rogue gene which shaped her body travelled from Greece to the USA. Her grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona, flee... more
A modern classic
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Member Name: wigglylittleworm
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Advantages: great storytelling
Disadvantages: minor quibbles
Milton and Tessie carefully plan the conception of their baby using temperature charts in order to maximise their chances of having a girl. They are delighted to welcome their daughter Calliope Stephanides into the world but things are not as rosy as they first seem. Callie grows from a beautiful little girl into an awkward adolescent, her problems more than the average teenage angst. Things come to a head when she is involved in a freak accident and during a trip to the emergency room it is discovered her body is different from other girls her age. A trip to a specialist confirms that Calliope is a hermaphrodite and is in fact biologically male. Callie becomes Cal and has to make the transition from life as a girl at an all-girls school to teenage boy.
Middlesex does not just cover Cal's life story; it covers the story of how she came into existence and how the rogue gene which shaped her body travelled from Greece to the USA. Her grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona, flee their tiny Greek village to escape civil war and settle in Detroit with Lefty working in the flourishing motor industry. Their love story is both shocking and moving with the lives of the older generation shaping the destiny of generations to come.
The next generation of the Stephinades family enjoy increased wealth and prosperity but also live through times of social upheaval with rioting and race relations playing a big part in their lives. They also struggle to be accepted as Americans whilst the older generation long to hold onto their old culture. The youngest generation seem to be living the American dream with comfortable homes and supportive extended families but they too will have to face the past sometime.
Middlesex has a whole cast of lovable characters including Cal, the narrator, her rebellious brother Chapter 11, her grandparents, the pious Father Mike and a various friends of the family. Each of the characters is beautifully drawn and their characters jump from the page, the fact that I felt like I knew and loved the characters by the end of the book is testament to the fantastic writing; Lefty and Desdemona for example mature from teenagers to pensioners during the story. Whether the character is male or female, young or old they were realistic.
Calliope/Cal's story is told with sensitivity, he tells his life story with all of the details of friendships and courtships and sexual awakening as a teenage girl to finding out he was actually a boy. As well as the sensitivity there is also a great deal of wit in there are Cal encounters some bizarre situations. Cal's story does not dominate the book, in fact there were some sections which I felt dragged a bit and I wanted them to be over so I could read more about Cal!
Middlesex was chosen for my bookgroup and was an excellent choice with all 10 of us giving the book at least 4/5. It provided a mass of discussion material and themes discussed included the nature vs. nurture debate particularly with regards to gender and gender identity. What makes us male or female? Is it genetic or does our upbringing play a greater part? It led us to reflecting on our own experiences and upbringings and was one of the liveliest discussions that our bookclub has ever had.
Middlesex gets full marks from me for the exceptional writing, imaginative story and characters and keeping me gripped from beginning to end. It is an exceptionally well researched book and as well as being entertained I learned a lot about Greek myth, both Greek and American history and genetics. This is a book which deserves its status as a modern classic and comes highly recommended by me.
Summary: a brilliant book