For our third book club assignment, Grace picked Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Sounds familiar? It’s because he’s the same dude who wrote the notoriously popular The Virgin Suicides. Well, at least to people in my circle. 😛
When I’m in a bookstore, its the cover that ultimately tells me which book to pick out from hundreds lined up on the shelves. Since I’m a walking bookstore barcode, I went to Powerbooks and asked one staff to get Middlesex for me. That way, the security guard won’t have to stop and inspect my bag when I leave the store.
Enough of that jibber-jabber.
The cover of the book version I got in Powerbooks didn’t really attract me. I was bracing myself for a novel that was set in the Roman era or something. Truthfully, I wasn’t that excited.
But to my surprise, it was such an interesting read at 500+ pages long. I’m writing this blog with no idea how to tell you how awesome the book is.
Gender identity and incestual love are the two core themes of the novel, which is broken down into four books. The novel’s narrator, “Cal” is the grandchild of Desdemona and Lefty, two Greeks who lived during the Greco-Turkish war. The novel begins three generations earlier, retelling how Desdemona and Lefty did something completely wrong–no matter where and how you look at it. Seriously.
Desdemona and Lefty are orphaned siblings who fell in love. As if that’s bad enough, they got married. They did this thinking that no one would knew their past, no one had to know their dirty secret. The war drove them out of their own country and threw them into American soil, wearing new identities. Milton, their son, married his cousin Tessie. They had two children, Chapter Eleven and Calliope.
Desdemona knew that something was bound to happen because of their forbidden love. And indeed, the “fruit” of their incestual love appeared two generations later–in their grandchild. Calliope was born intersexed. A hermaphrodite.
But neither the family doctor nor the parents noticed this until Calliope him/herself discovered “things” when he/she was 14. Calliope was raised as a girl, but felt “different”. While everyone around “her” was growing breasts and getting their periods, Calliope fell behind. A lot happened in-between but Calliope ended up responding to his/her “call”. She ran away, wounded up all over America, discovering herself. Calliope was no more–she became a he, and took on the name Cal.
It’s a story so perfectly weaved. You would think that a lie would soon die a natural death when concealed, but then eventually, it will come barging in to your life. It will ruin the good things you have built on that one single lie. It’s like that of Desdemona and Lefty’s tragically wrong love story. It haunted them, their kids and eventually, their grandkids.
Reading the book, I felt like a voyeur, observing the lives of Desdemona, Milton and Calliope through a foggy window. I don’t think I can question the way the characters were developed, why they did what they did. It’s one of those books that doesn’t need explanation from the author. It’s amazing just as it is.
Eugenides effectively narrates their struggles. He manages to squeeze in important cultural and historical truths too without being preachy, without displacing it from the flow of the novel.
“We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back where you began.“
By the way, I like how Eugenides ended the story–hopeful.
People, if you want to be blown away, read this book. You won’t be disappointed.