Monday, July 5, 2010

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is about Calliope Stephanides, a Greek-American girl who, beginning in puberty, discovers that she is not like other girls, and in fact is not a girl at all. Due to several generations of incest, recessive genes have come together in Callie--that is, Cal--causing 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This means that while he looks and acts entirely like a girl until puberty, Cal is actually a boy.

The first two "books" of Middlesex follow Cal's Greek family as his grandparents, brother and sister as well as third cousins, marry and move to the U.S. in the 1920s. These grandparents, "Lefty" and Desdemona, have a son, Milton, and their cousin Sourmelina has a daughter, Tessie. The narrative follows the family as Milton and Tessie grow up and, eventually, marry and conceive a child. In the second half of the book, this child, Calliope, grows up, eventually realizing that she is somehow different from others. After visiting a doctor in New York City, Callie decides to run away and become Cal. While I won't give away the entire rest of the plot (I hope I haven't given away too much already, but I'm sorry if I have), the book ends with Cal being at peace with who he is.

This book was not what I expected at all. I knew roughly what it was about, but I had no idea that half the book would follow the family of the main character rather than the main character himself. That said, I was not disappointed in the least. I felt that knowing Cal's family background somehow illuminated the complicated relationships within the family, which I thought made the story much richer. Written in the form of an autobiography, the narration in Middlesex is nonetheless captivating, and every one of the characters is complex and well fleshed out. Due to its setting, the book contains some social commentary, describing the attitude toward blacks, Greeks, and basically anyone "different" in 1960s and 1970s Detroit, where the Stephanides family lives, as well as the animosity between Greeks and Turks. As well as being entertaining, Middlesex made me want to research hermaphrodism and gender in general, and I will be recommending it to all my book-loving friends.


  1. You are reading massive book at the moment aren't you? I have seen this book in the library but it looked huge so I passed on it but your review does make me want to read it now.

  2. I so loved this book; just awesome

  3. I've had this book for ages, I think it'll be fascinating to read .. but I just can't bring myself to pick it up and actually read it. One of these days!

  4. This sounds fascinating! Seriously Zara, where do you find such good books to review?

    Haha, can you tell I'm behind on reading your reviews? I'm trying to catch up.