Middlesex is a novel about a hermaphrodite. To be honest, reading a novel about a hermaphrodite was the furthest thing from my mind. Furthermore, this book is over 500 pages. But I dove into it and finished it quickly. The author, Jeffrey Eugenides, is a talented writer; he also wrote The Virgin Suicides, which was published in 1993, and adapted into a film by director Sofia Coppola in 1999. In 2002, Middlesex was published, and in 2003 it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
This international bestseller is a multi-generational novel. It's not just about Calliope Stephanides--called "Callie"--discovering that she or he is a hermaphrodite. It's the story behind the recessive gene which caused the hermaphroditism in the first place, of the family history, and history in a larger sense as well. Omniscient narrator and protagonist Cal Stephanides, now a 41-year-old male, tells a story which spans three generations, starting with his Greek grandparents, who leave Turkey in 1922 and travel to the U.S., settle in Detroit, and work hard to carve out a new life. The book covers a lot of history, including Prohibition and Detroit's 1967 race riots, and is at times insightful, painful, funny, and gripping.
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; an then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petosky, Michigan, in August of 1974."
~Opening lines, Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Before reading this book, I never really thought about hermaphrodites or how they might feel. I think Eugenides does a remarkable job writing about how it feels to live with a mixed gender or one that isn't quite right. Raised as a girl until she's 14, Callie is embarrassed about not developing like other girls as a teenager, and senses that something is wrong with her. She also falls in love with a female classmate, "the Object", which is troubling and confusing to her. Middlesex is very much a coming-of-age novel, made more unusual by the fact that Callie is a hermaphrodite, an intersexed person. Although Callie's parents love their child unconditionally, and try to help once they're aware that there's a problem, ultimately it's Callie who takes charge in this unconventional, unforgettable story.
If you've read Middlesex or have a related thought to share please leave a comment.