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Middlesex: A Novel

A book by Jeffrey Eugenides

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20th century odyssey

  • Mar 10, 2008
  • by
It's been a while since an ambitious, intergenerational family saga has made a big splash in the book world, and Middlesex has filled the gap. Yes, a major theme in this novel is hermaphroditism (which I doubt any parent today would handle any better than the Stephanides), but Cal, the narrator and central character, does not make her/his entrance upon the stage until nearly the halfway point of this epic. Author Eugenides has done a remarkable job of capturing the Eastern European immigration experience. As the granddaughter of Slavic immigrants, while reading about the behaviors and attitudes of the first generation Stephanides family, I perceived distinct echoes reverberating from my own childhood. (Other books that do this well are "I Love You Like a Tomato" by Marie Giordano and "Dances with Luigi" by Paul Paolicelli.) Fate and genetics loom equally large in the development of this Greek/American family, raising the possibility that one is the same as the other.

Enter Cal, who does not realize anything is amiss until the typical angst of adolescence becomes unusually and mystifyingly complicated. The medical, practical, and psychological ramifications of dual gender conditions are indeed daunting, and sometimes shocking, and this is beautifully expressed in his characterization. Nevertheless, the reader should be prepared, because some of it can be heavy going. But, infused with humor as it is, openminded readers will find it worthwhile.

The novel comes full circle at its conclusion, also beautifully rendered, as Cal and YaYa find common ground, understanding, and some peace. The vignettes of Cal's current life, inserted only occasionally into the historical narrative, make it clear that this scene is only a beginning for him, saving it from the maudlin.

Some judicious editing might improve Middlesex, as it bogs down in places, but this problem does not detract from the power of its message.

Highly recommended to readers willing to persist and to tolerate uncomfortable sexual content.

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More Middlesex (book) reviews
review by . June 30, 2010
I am convinced that Jeffrey Eugenides will be a name readers identify for generations to come.  I was impressed by his first novel, The Virgin Suicides, but Middlesex demonstrates an increased sense of the characters and truly keeps the reader in the grips of the plot.  The story of the main characters is compelling, while secondary characters who played parts in important historic events gave depth to a story that took place mostly in Detroit.     SPOILER ALERT- It is …
review by . June 25, 2010
This is an outstanding novel and a very worthy Pulitzer Prize winner. If you told me I'd enjoy a book about a hermaphrodite that finds their true sexual identity - not my kind of thing! But this is a very serious, well thought out, and comi-tragic novel about Cal. Calliope grew up thinking he was a girl until puberty came and oops! Actually not. But it's about much more than just that. The novel is epic in scope centering on the history of Calliope's family and exactly how it came …
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Well written story about a subject often ignored.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Very interesting book! Totally outside of what I normally read or expected.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
Well crafted and on point.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
one of my favorite books of all time. vast, sweeping -- i still am amazed by how intuitively eugenides writes as a female protagonist
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
this book is so good that when i first read it, i was convinced of my OWN hermaphroditism although i was born and identify as a female.
Quick Tip by . June 12, 2010
I really enjoyed this book.
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Very, very worth reading.
About the reviewer
Linda ()
Ranked #53
After 21 years as a school psychologist, I now work part-time at two local historical museums, giving tours and teaching special programs. This leaves me more time to enjoy my little grandchildren, and … more
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About this book


Middlesex is a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. It was published in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003.

The narrator and protagonist, Calliope Stephanides (later called "Cal"), an intersexed person of Greek descent, has 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. The bulk of the novel is devoted to telling his coming-of-age story growing up in Detroit, Michigan in the late 20th century. This story, however, is intertwined with elements of a family saga, meditations on the era's zeitgeist and bits of contemporary history.

The novel begins with the narrator, aged 41, deciding to tell the story of his recessive gene that caused him to be born Calliope and later to become Cal. The narration periodically returns to the frame story of present-day Cal, who is bearded, male and interested in women, foreshadowing the personal revelations of Callie.

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ISBN-10: 0312427735 0374199698
ISBN-13: 978-0312427733 9780374199692
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Date Published: 2002
Format: Book : Fiction; English
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