Book #28


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

I’ve always thought there was something intrinsically special about this novel, and rereading again after thirteen years has confirmed this.

Although, yes, this novel is about an intersex person navigating life, Eugenides presents us with a whole lot more than that. We don’t just see Cal, we see his entire family spanning generations, their stories, their mistakes, their dependencies and tragedies.

We begin in Turkey, with Cal’s grandparents, and we track the mutated gene which contributes to his being across years and continents, eventually landing in Detroit. The intricate depictions of the lives of the entire family, the gorgeous explanations of the good old USA in the thirties and forties are completely wonderful, their detail contributing to what is a deep and soulful family history.

Everything is tied together with medical jargon, ancient Greek mythology, political and social historical events, reeling us in and spitting us back out as we contemplate not only living these lives, in these times, but also living as someone who feels different but just isn’t sure why.

There’s a lot to analyse, and personal analysis is also vital here. I’ll spare you my own meandering and conflating thoughts, but a story which can spark thoughts about gender, belonging, sexual identity, and the diversity of mortals, can only be brimming with importance, and I feel this strongly.

Impossible to describe, and even more difficult to understand my own feelings for, this story is one which deserves a close eye and an open heart. A definite slow burner which requires time to be taken as you come to deeply understand the complexities of humanity, and to grow an affection for all involved. A true masterpiece.