review: middlesex

15 October 2013

book info:
on sale now
copy from: brother's bookshelf
pages: 544
review written: 30/9/13-
edition read: Picador
originally published: September 16, 2003

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license...records my first name simply as Cal."

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 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.

My thoughts:
When I read the first few pages, my first impression was that this was to be a rambling book in which I will know none of what is being talked about. Kind of like how I felt when I read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle for the first time. I put the book down and attempted to read Oryx and Crake and some Shakespeare and made the amazing decision of coming back to it. Lesson learned, as always: if at first you don't like a book--at least give it a chance.
I read this book through and through. Before, I used to skim and read books quickly. But Eugenides writing is so rich and beautiful, I didn't want to miss a word. In fact, I had to place it down several times in a reading because the words were too rich for me. That's the kind of amazing Middlesex is.

The story begins with an excited Greek household in America. A grandmother holds her spoon in front of a pregnant mother, attempting to find out the sex of her grand-baby within. The family is overjoyed to find out it's a daughter, but the grandmother has her fears. Then the story flips back generations, like rewinding a film, where we find the origins of Calliope's story, in a small village in Greece. The grandmother becomes a young woman.

 The writing is rich and thick and would be appropriate for older audiences, like older teens and onwards. Pre teens will find this a difficult and boring book. I know I would have hated it if I read it at thirteen. Now, as I've said time and time again, the characters are most important. But I think in this book, that principle is an exception. Middlesex is truly a story of a story, not a story of a person. It spans generations in a fluid, flawless manner. The smooth cover accurately represents the story. The smooth smoke and the calm waters-that's the book. An ocean at the top to the polluted city of Detroit at the bottom. Basically, that's the story from start to finish. It's a story that's full-circle--it closes where it begins.

 My favourite character was not the main character, Calliope, but the grandmother, Desdemona. Truly, this was her story. Calliope was just the voice to tell it. Desdemona is a beautiful young woman in a near abandoned old village in Asia Minor. The Turkish are advancing and the danger of take over is imminent. Her character develops from a hopeful young woman to a distraught and broken old lady. Reading her develop, with a sense of regret, I watched her become so different. In our own lives, five years make little difference. But ten, then twenty, and then fifty--the past becomes so much more clear. And the sort of the stories that genuinely start from birth to death, or at least close to those extremities, are stories that are truly human stories.

The moment when I became most excited was when I was reading and stumbled upon what I perceived to be the thesis. It was quite an amazing feeling to find the thesis in a fiction novel, and for that thesis to be so clear that I stopped in my tracks and let out a soft "oh my god".

These were the profound words:

"Living sends a person not into the future but back into the past"
-Jeffery Eugenides (forgot to write down the page number)

  If that doesn't make you want to read this book, I don't there's any other way for me to convince you that this is a godly book. I give it five umbrellas out of six!

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