Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Middlesex

I didn't know what to expect with this one. I'd heard of it but hadn't read any reviews of Middlesex(at least, none that I remembered) before finding it in a bookcase at the cabin we were staying in. I had already picked out my reading for the weekend, but changed my plans once I opened up this book, startled by two things. First of all, the sheer volume of acclaim in the pages before the first chapter whetted my interest. And second of all, I also learned what this book is about.

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.

13 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to read this one for some time now. It does sound interesting. Great review :)
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  2. http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/2007/08/middlesex-by-jeffrey-eugenides.html

    I read this book and reviewed it a couple of years ago (link above). I also found myself unable to put the book down, even though it wasn't a book that I would have normally picked up by it's description. It was a very interesting book and contained some beautiful writing.

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  3. I also read this book about two years ago. I agree that it helps you see the world through the eyes of the transgendered without pandering at all. It also lets us see inside an immigrant family experience. I will have to get around to reading "Virgin Suicide" one of these days.

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  4. I am a few chapters into this book, and it is slow going. Have you read The Virgin Suicides? That is one of my favorites so far this year. It read much more quickly for me.

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  5. Thanks for the review. Like you,I had heard of the book before. A few years ago it seemed as though everyone was reading it. It was receiving so much acclaim, I added it to my wish list on that alone. Hey, I figured everyone else is trying it....

    Now that I actually KNOW what it's about, I'm even more anxious to get my paws on it!

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  6. Great review! Lie you, I had heard of this book but, never read it. I have now added it to my TBR list. It sounds interesting.

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  7. I didn't feel it much like a coming-of-age novel (apart from maybe the last few chapters), and I'm glad, because I don't generally like coming-of-age novels. I feel it's more about family saga and story of immigrants. But anyway, I just finished reading it 2 days ago and will write my review soon. You read it much quicker than I did!

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  8. Middlesex sounds interesting, although I have not seen in anywhere in Indian bookstores yet.

    In India, hermaphrodites have a very bad life. They are usually abandoned by their parents and taken in by other hermaphrodites. And then begins a lifetime of social ostracism, no-education, living-by-begging-and-petty-crime and a life lived according to strange and rigid rituals of cross-dressing/verbal-abuse etc.

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  9. I've been meaning to read both books that this author has written. This sounds like such an interesting read...great review!

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  10. I'm sold. Super review. Thanks! Peace... dp

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  11. This is my all-time favourite book! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it too :) It really is unforgettable.

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  12. I read this quite a few years ago, before my blogging days. I just LOVED it. Your review is just great!

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  13. Many thanks to all who commented so far. More comments are also welcomed.

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