“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides
(First publication: 2002 / This edition: 4th Estate Books 2013)
Taken during my internship in Tokyo about a year ago—during my morning coffee routine at Downstairs Coffee in Nogizaka
Once you’ve visited the underworld, you never forget the way back.
The first time I heard about this book was in 11th grade in English class. A student had asked our teacher what her favorite book was, and the teacher said, “A book called Middlesex”. I just listened in and thought, “….okay, weird name. No idea what that can be about.”
A few weeks before reading “Middlesex”, I read “The Virgin Suicides”—so I decided that Jeffrey Eugenides is one hell of an author and wanted to consume more of his words. So…picked up “Middlesex” because of that and also because of recalling what my 11th grade English teacher had said.
Since it’s been exactly a year since I read it, I’m a little hazy on some details. BUT I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. It’s definitely one of my top favorites (of the favorites) and the story (the outline and the general idea) will be embedded in my brain forever and ever. And ever.
I was busy with my internship back then, but I remember I would always carry this book with me everywhere; I read it on the daily commute while squished between Japanese “salaryman” during rush hours, I read it during my 1-hour lunch breaks, and every hour I had before sleep took over. It’s so captivating. I even rambled on about it with so much passion to my mom during a slightly-tipsy wine night—as if I was actually a character in the story.
The story is pretty dark and perverse. It’s gnarly. The whole story is about three generations of a Greek family. It revolves around superstition, which is interesting if you’re into Greek history and all. The protagonist, Calliope/Cal, is the youngest generation in this family. Calliope later on in life finds out that she’s actually a hermaphrodite. (“Ohhhh…that’s what ‘Middlesex’ means…duh.) The story is the twisty-intertwiney style that I love, and the whole thing is just such a mind-spinning adventure.
I don’t want to spoil it too much for those that haven’t read it yet (BUT YOU WILL, NOW.)…but what I found the most interesting about this book is the awareness and understanding of “hermaphrodites”. I had a vague understanding of it before (Hi, AP Biology class) but since it’s kind of a taboo subject, I didn’t really know too much. Apparently it’s much more common than I thought, and there are many variations. For example, some are visible from birth and some become more visible later on in life. Even though this is fiction, it actually educated me a lot about all the facts and possibilities of “intersex” people.
Calliope struggles from childhood about her sexuality—confused about her feelings for her best girl friend, confused about her first time having sex, and etc. Later on, she then struggles with her identity and her acceptance of being “abnormal”. You see her transition from “Calliope” to “Cal”. The story is told from Cal’s perspective.
“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.”
That’s pretty much the general outline of it, but the story is filled with so much more. It’s quite a long read (529 pages, tiny print), but every page will keep you wanting more.
I would recommend this for everyone. It’s pretty gritty, but it’s so worth it. I will probably re-read it soon. And then gush about it some more, at least three times this length, in another post. 😉
Unfortunately, I didn’t underline anything in this book, so here are just some of my favorite lines—taken from Goodreads:
Everyone struggles against despair, but it always wins in the end. It has to. It’s the thing that lets us say goodbye.
The mind self-edits. The mind airbrushes. It’s a different thing to be inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From inside there is no comparison.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness”, “joy”, or “regret”. Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that is oversimplifies feeling.