Thursday, April 12, 2018

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published September 2002 by Knopf Canada
Read by Kristoffer Tabori
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale; I also have a physical copy, the origins of which I don't recall

Publisher's Summary:
In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides finds herself drawn to a classmate at her girls' school in Grosse Point, Michigan. That passion -- along with her failure to develop -- leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. The explanation for this is a rare genetic mutation -- and a guilty secret -- that have followed Callie's grandparents from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to Prohibition-era Detroit and beyond, outlasting the glory days of the Motor City, the race riots of 1967, and the family's second migration, into the foreign country known as suburbia. Thanks to the gene, Callie is part girl, part boy. And even though the gene's epic travels have ended, her own odyssey has only begun.

My Thoughts:
"I was born twice: first, as a baby January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage August of 1974."

Once upon a time, I suppose I had some inkling what this book was about. Then I forgot. I just knew that it was a book that people raved about. So I bought it. Twice. Then, shortly after I bought the audiobook, I read somewhere that it was the first popular book with a hermaphrodite as its main character; and, I'm ashamed to say, I moved it to the bottom of the pile. And then I listened to podcasts instead of popping in the first disc. I could not imagine 500 pages about a hermaphrodite that wasn't just sensationalized. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If you've been reading my Sunday posts, or follow me on Instagram, Snapchat, or Litsy, you've been hearing me rave about this book for the past few weeks, "One of the best readings of a book I've ever listened to; Kristoffer Tabori is amazing,""just blown away by Eugenides writing. Why did I wait so long?!" When the end-of-the-year post goes up with my favorites for the year, it's going to be pretty tough to top this one as my favorite audiobook of the year.

But just how did I overcome my qualms about a book featuring an hermaphrodite? I'm not going to lie; some parts of the book made me a little uncomfortable. But, then I've been working the past couple of years to read more books that make me uncomfortable so I appreciate the ways that Eugenides made me learn about human sexuality. In the end, what he seems to be saying about all of that is that it is who we are inside that makes us who we are, not what we are on the outside.

But this book is about so much more than gender identity. It's a coming of age story that's also about war, passion, immigration and the immigrant experience, the rise and fall of a city, racial tensions, religion, nature versus nurture, societies, the American Dream, gender roles, and, most of all, it's about family. The characters in this book will stay with me for a long time: Lefty and Desdemona who escaped the great fire of Smyrna and pursued the American Dream while never leaving their Greek customs entirely behind; Jimmy Zizmo, who was married to their cousin and took them under his wing but who also exposed them to the seamier side of America; Milton, who worked hard to leave behind his Greek roots and become a big man with his Cadillacs and unusual house in the tony suburb of Gross Pointe; the aunts, uncles, and family friends who made up the Sunday dinner crowd. They all made Callie/Cal who she/he was as much by who they were as by genetics.

Does Eugenides sometimes get a little verbose? Oh, yeah, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. But I'm willing to forgive all of that for the empathy, sadness, humor, and insight that he has imbued his story with. As I said when I was getting near the end, I'm going to miss this book.


  1. This was a good one. I read it a while ago so your review brought it all back. Thanks.

  2. I read this book several years ago and agree with all you said. I think it was likely the first book I'd read with a gender identity issue. Of course, this book is over 15 years old, so it's not new. As you mentioned, it was about Callie/Cal, but it was about a lot more. The family story was fascinating as well. I would recommend this one too. And I might look for the audio because I like to reread books at times by listening to them.

  3. It was quite good. I read Annabel after it. Also about a hermaphrodite. It was a little darker but also very good.

  4. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this one when I first started listening to audiobooks. Someone recommended it to me as one of the better ones, so without knowing anything about the book I gave it a go. I still consider it one of my top audiobook experiences. The story is SO good, and Kristoffer Tabori does an excellent job bringing to life all of the characters. It would definitely be one I to which I would listen again should I ever run out of audiobooks.

  5. This has also been sitting on my shelf for awhile. Wonderful review and I know I need to move this toward the top of the pile!

  6. I have so much love for this book and am glad you ended up liking it, despite your initial doubts.