Posted on | March 22, 2010 | 41 Comments
I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
So opens Eugenides’ epic novel, Middlesex. Calliope “Cal” Stephanides was declared a girl when she came into this world, against the odds. Her grandmother’s spoon (which had successfully predicted the sex of previous unborn children) had swung indicating a son would be born, but, Calliope’s father begged to differ saying, “it’s science” – well, maybe so, but, fourteen years later (despite being raised as a girl), the Stephanides family learnt that “Cal” had a 5-alpha reductase deficiency, which resulted in the doctor figuring a girl had been born, not a boy.
Narrated by Calliope (and then Cal), this novel isn’t just about the experience as a hermaphrodite. In fact, the narrator goes back three generations, where the ancestors were fleeing Greece during the Greek-Turk wars in the 1920s. Time moves on to World War II, the Depression, the race riots in Detroit, Detroit and the assembly line and finally, the present. The story adapts and evolves with each historical event, and its significance in the life of Cal and his ancestors.
This book is quite a chunkster at over 520 pages long, and while the gist seems to suggest its predominant focus is Cal’s identity crisis, more than half the book focuses on the history and how the relationships through time have resulted in the present. There are incestuous relationships, the whole talk of what is acceptable and what should be avoidable, the “woman’s” role vs. the “man’s” and the filial and parental devotion that runs through the book, making it interesting and captivating.
The writing style is slightly bizarre, switching between third and first person, almost as though there’s two streams of consciousness. But then again, that’s one of the things I do love about Eugenides’ writing (think The Virgin Suicides and the collective “we” narrator). The book is interesting, and despite being fairly long, it doesn’t drag on or feel as though it’s missed the final edit. It’s humorous, witty and perceptive, with the scope of its narrative being ambitious, and in my opinion, Eugenides does a wonderful job of pulling it off.
This is the first book that I’ve read, where the central character is a hermaphrodite. It’s also the first book I’ve read which deals with the Greek-Turk wars. However, I have read a fair few books around the whole immigration malarky, and this does manage to not be stereotypical.
Are there any other books you’d recommend which talks of the Greek-Turk history? How about books belonging to the “LGBT” category?