Book · Book Review

Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people-and especially doctors- had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost.

Middlesex is a coming of age novel written by American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003. Set in Detroit between the years 1960’s-70’s (with a few flashbacks from earlier years) this was written in a first person point of view in the voice of Callie, which will later on be Cal Stephanides.

The book is about Calliope Stephanides and how he’s come to the realization of his gender identity. Cal is the second child of an American family with roots from Greek immigrants. He was born with a genitalia of a girl -physically, she was endowed with the female sexual parts but on a closer look inside, there’s a male part in it. I wouldn’t go about the details of his anatomy but to put it simply, he was born and raised as a girl but is biologically a boy. He and his Mom started having doubts during his puberty when all his friends are getting their periods and started wearing bras. Cal waited but his period didn’t come and his breasts remained non-existent. It was later on when they consulted a Gender Identity Specialist (Sexologist) when they found about his condition. The doctor suggested corrective procedure to make him the girl he was born to be, but Cal felt that he is a boy more than a girl so the “procedure” was not pushed through.

It was mentioned several times in the book that Cal’s story wouldn’t be complete without the story of his grandparents and how they immigrated to America. A great part of this book encompasses the history of Cal’s grandparents, from the early 1920’s when they got their first American jobs up to the 1950’s when Cal’s parents got together up until Cal’s time. All throughout the book, his grandparents are always present.

It’s a story mainly of family and identity. It tells the history of one’s family and their fears and dreams. It tells how gender is not a definition of one’s identity. How we should all accept what we truly feel is real and tell the world about it.

In general, I liked how the book have pictured the life and love of a typical family with all the essential roles played by a loving mother, a reserved father, a bullying brother and an aging grandmother. I loved how Cal embraced his identity with open arms. I didn’t like the fact that the book was supposed to be about the story of Cal but a good 60 percent of the book’s content is about his grandparents’ history from Smyrna to Detroit. I was expecting more from Cal and his many explorations and discoveries within himself. I thought the author could’ve delved more in to that, seeing that the book was about Cal and him, being an intersex.

With this, I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I’d recommend this to a patient reader for parts of it could get a bit “elaborate” and though this didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I’d still read another Jeffrey Eugenides book. His writing style suits me, elaborate but engaging.

Footnote: I used the pronoun “his” throughout this entry as I feel that Callie/Cal is essentially a boy. 

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