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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides Book Review

03.29.22
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Towards the end of 2022, I looked at a list I had made last January of all the books I wanted to finish before the year was out. It was something of an ambitious list – but one that I should – and could – have finished, had I been more diligent in my reading. Alas, I wasn’t, and while I read just shy of 90 books in total, as I often lament, I wish I had been more particular in selecting the books I chose to read.

One such book I did manage to tick of the list – and one that had been on my ever-growing reading pile ever since I first read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides when I lived in Los Angeles – was the author’s second book, and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, Middlesex. Over the years I’ve collected a handful of copies, and when I headed to Byron with a friend in November, I took it, promising I wouldn’t return to Bondi with a single page unread. And so read it, I did, over one very, very wet week in Byron, during which the sky remained low and looming and grey, and I spent much of the week curled up on the sofa, candles flickering, tea in hand, as I lost myself in Eugenides much-loved modern classic.

Middlesex Book Review

A tale that’s about as different from The Virgin Suicides as it could possibly get, Middlesex is a story of epic proportions that tells the tale of Calliope – a character who was born intersex and raised as a girl – but who, during their adolescence becomes Cal.

It spans almost a century and traces the Stephanides family from battle-torn Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, across an Atlantic voyage, from the street corners of Detroit, through World War II, and out to the suburban haven of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and offers its readers a rich and complex family drama, straddling multiple generations and exploring everything from incest to immigration to family secrets and what life was like in twentieth-century America.

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And while the themes of the novel are wide and varied, at its heart Middlesex is a book about people, and what it is that makes us human. It looks at the idea that we are all years in the making long before we’re born, and ponders the notion that our stories begin way before us in faraway lands, and in communities and countries about which we may never know.

With an endearing and smart narrator, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Middlesex is a story about the trials and tribulations of both childhood and adolescence, and a poignant portrayal of Calliope “Cal” Stephanides, as we discover the humanity of a character one might otherwise find alienated elsewhere.

Middlesex summary

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. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

Buy Middlesex from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

Further reading

I loved Jeffrey Eugenides short story, Bronze, published in the New Yorker.

Jeffrey Eugenides author bio

Jeffrey Kent Eugenides is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer of Greek and Irish extraction.

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Eugenides was born in Detroit, Michigan, of Greek and Irish descent. He attended Grosse Pointe’s private University Liggett School. He took his undergraduate degree at Brown University, graduating in 1983. He later earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Stanford University.

In 1986 he received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship for his story “Here Comes Winston, Full of the Holy Spirit”. His 1993 novel, The Virgin Suicides, gained mainstream interest with the 1999 film adaptation directed by Sofia Coppola. The novel was reissued in 2009.

Other Jeffrey Eugenides books

His other novels include The Virgin Suicides and The Marriage Plot.

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