Middlesex

"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 begins 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 they move out to the tree-lined streets of Suburban Grosse Point, 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 her into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, MIDDLESEX is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.


This book has taken me a long time to finish. I had saved a draft about it here just to get ahead, and that was like... 3 weeks ago? Well, that is not important.

The first time Middlesex came to my attention was perhaps a few years ago, when I stumbled onto the title on Wikipedia on reading about hermaphrodite (I was just learning about it after I read Koji Suzuki's Ring). Since then I've been meaning to read it; partly because I am very sexually, hormonally curious, and partly because I'm getting tired of the usual teenage affairs on the books at that time. Thank you again Harris for being the best bookstore in the entire Kota Kinabalu.

Continuing to the book, Middlesex is in the Bildungsroman genre, a genre I've always love to read even when my mind was still young and couldn't digest much of the information. The book started briefly with the scene of the protagonist's grandmother predicting the gender of the protagonist. Then it moved on to the grandmother's story in the year of 1922, where the whole affair of the protagonist's state supposedly begun continuing for three generations to the year 1975. The novel started with the story of Cal's grandparents, then to his parents who in their desire to have a daughter engaged in some kind of intercourse experiment, and then to Calliope who grew up struggling to understand her condition and desires.

I cannot exactly give a clear summary of this book as doing so will cause spoilers. Middlesex does not use any mystery or suspense technique to keep its readers going, rather a handful of clever jokes and witty knowledge delivery as well intense emotional descriptions. All of these aspects made me root for the protagonist, Cal, from start to finish. I can somehow relate to Cal, of his incapability to stay in permanent relationships and of his bitter yet embracing manner towards the difficult truth of life, despite not having live through any of those turmoils yet. Cal is indeed one of the most audacious and wondrous narrrators in fiction. The imagery he uses to describe the events in his life are funny and engaging, and most certainly enjoyable. The author also has the ability to make the scenes very believable and lively; not just a bunch of pretty words thrown together to pull at your heart strings, but words that can make you feel you're standing right before the scenes and you can see what the characters are doing including their facial expression and bodily language in expressing their feelings.

Another thing about Middlesex is that how it describe the sexual curiosity of each character, of their intimacy and lustful thoughts so casually to me. I hate it when sex is taken to be an evil thing, or when sex is taken for granted to create craps like porns and mindless erotics. There is a deep psychological and moral aspects to the word sex and gender in Middlesex. For instance, Cal mentioned that being a male or a female is completely normal, but being a hermaphrodite is equivalent to being a freak, a monster. Religion does little help in such matter and science, despite acknowledging the possibility, treated intersex individuals as nothing more but subject matter to be studied. However, Middlesex is heavily infused with both religion and science as both have great impact on human's lives and thoughts. Whenever a tragedy or troubles befell their family, it is their religion they rely to for solutions and relieve. But when strange physical conditions or sexual attractions happens, science is used to explain the phenomena. I think Mr. Eugenides showed that, even when one became a skeptic whether in religion or science, these two aspects will always become a part of his/her life. In Cal's case, they played a heavy part in helping him to accept and appreciate who he is.

That being said, I can say that Middlesex offers all the elements in life that we readers can relate to. It is a poignant tale which deserves all the attention in the world.