June 2024
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Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

This review includes spoilers, but does not really do more than state the obvious.

This book begins with the rather startling fact that the narrator, Cal, also known as Calliope, is a hermaphrodite, raised as a girl, and discovers that he is really a boy in his teenage years. It then goes on to trace two generations of Cal’s Greek family in order to trace the gene which made him the way he is, and how his family dealt with it.

I really liked this book. I loved the multi-generational aspect, seeing family traits come down, getting really involved with the characters. Most of the characters were very multi-faceted and believable, except perhaps Desdemona, who seems to me a rather stereotypical Greek woman. I liked how they reflected the times as the years passed. I really liked the combination of omniscient and third-person narration; Cal knows and tells all, but in such a way that when he’s not talking about his own life, he doesn’t really get in the way and lets the tale tell itself. I found it strange how omniscient he is; very unrealistic, but I allowed him to know everything and just accepted it.

Middlesex is fundamentally about being different, about awkwardness, and about being a teenager and wanting to be the same. Calliope/Cal struggles to fit in, wishes desperately that she could, and then decides not to. She becomes he and the ending is magnificent in the he finds peace and accepts who he is. Gender identity is the prevailing theme, but I think this goes much deeper, an extreme case of a teenager longing to be normal. Jeffrey Eugenides provides a perspective that will resonate with all readers who can remember that longing, wrapped in a riveting, enjoyable story of a Greek family caught between their home country and their adopted one.


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