Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

8 Nov

I finished this book yesterday and I had a serious book hangover for the next few hours. Wow. That word sums up my feelings on Middlesex better than any other. Wow. I’m so excited to write this review. This is a book club book so I’ll be doing a book club review next week.

Book Cover taken from

Book Cover taken from

Middlesex by Jeffry Eugenidies

Middlesex tells the story of inter-sexual Cal Stephanides as he traces his roots back to Greece and follows the genes that led to his condition. The story is fictional and told from a mix of first and third person points of view as Cal retells his story. The text bounces between Cal in his 40s living in Berlin and his story through the 20th century.

The plot begins in Turkey near the Greek border where Cal’s grandparents Desdemona and Lefty decide that they should get married. This is complicated because they are brother and sister. To escape the villagers who would criticize them, they escape and flee to Detroit to live with their cousin, Lina, the only person privy to their secrets. Desdemona and Lefty survive the 20s and 30s in Detroit and produce two children, Zoe and Milton. Milton goes on to marry his second cousin, Lina’s daughter Tessie. When Cal’s older brother (code named Chapter 11) is born, nothing is out of the ordinary. When Cal is born as Calliope, no one suspects that the seeming young girl will grow into a man. Calliope’s questions about her gender identity and seeming homosexuality become more confusing when she reaches puberty until she is finally referred to a specialist in New York. When the specialist recommends cosmetic surgery and hormone injection to retain her feminine identity, Calliope flees and becomes Cal.

This overview is a gross simplification of the plot. The nuances of Cal’s story make this book very rich and full of the wonderful details that sucked me into the story. I’ll add that I listened to the audiobook of Middlesex and the narrator was incredible and certainly added to my enjoyment of this story.

Maybe it was my relationship with the Detroit setting, but Cal’s journey struck a cord with me. As a girl, he never felt comfortable with his body. Though not due to hormones, I felt the same way until I was in college; I never felt like my body fit who I was. I think this story is a wonderful example of a story that is relatable even when the character’s journey is anything but ordinary. Cal is a person with unusual problems but he experiences them with the same emotions all humans have.

One of the opinions Eugenides shares at the very end of the book has to do with how Cal’s family perceived him after his gender switch. He said that they realized that gender didn’t matter much; Cal was still the same person he had been when they called him Calliope. I took this more generally to mean we should treat people as people, not as men or women. Each soul is a unique human being and we shouldn’t have preconceived notions about how that human will act or talk or be based on characteristics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, or age. These things don’t matter because each person is uniquely designed to be the person they are, no matter the exterior.

Eugenides was able to take a controversial issue like sexual identity and write a book that is widely accepted by everyone regardless of their familiarity with the subject. He has personalized the intersexual journey and given Cal such a voice that he stands above all preconceived notions as a singular, strong character. I wish I could meet him in person because I have so much respect for him.

Writer’s Takeaway: I don’t know if I can put my finger on what exactly I loved about this book. Possibly the subject Eugenides picked; I’ve never read anything like this before and I don’t know if I will ever again. As writers, we’re always looking for a subject that will stand out and Eugenides did a wonderful job.

After reading this book, I instantly added The Virgin Suicides to my list so I could read another book by Eugenides. I highly recommend it, a full 5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on.


8 Responses to “Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides”

  1. crystallinegirl November 9, 2013 at 11:17 PM #

    I’d heard of this book, but didn’t really know what it was about. Sounds fascinating; I just added it to my to-read list! Gender issues are a very interesting topic to me, so this should be right up my alley. 🙂


    • Sam November 10, 2013 at 12:27 AM #

      I hope you enjoy. It was incredible.


      • crystallinegirl November 10, 2013 at 10:23 PM #

        Just picked it up from the library! Have a few other books in line first, but I’ll be reading it soon!


      • Sam November 11, 2013 at 6:32 AM #

        I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. My book club meets today to talk about it and I’m thrilled!



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