Middlesex is a complicated novel of more than 500 pages, the multi-generational story of the Stephenides family who fled to America in the early 1920s for its very survival. At the core of this family saga is the fact that two members of the family, brother and sister, arrived in America as husband and wife, something that was to genetically impact the book's narrator and main character, Calliope Stephenides, who was born a hermaphrodite in 1960 Detroit. The novel's opening line sets the stage for the rest of the book:
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."Everything about Calliope's birth appeared normal to the attending Greek doctor and his nurse and for the first 14 years of her/his life Calliope was raised as the girl whom she appeared to be. Things suddenly changed for her after she reached puberty and an emergency room doctor recognized that Calliope was, in fact, not the girl she thought she was.
Eugenides fills each generation of the Stephenides family with memorable characters from the moment that Desdemona and Lefty are forced to abandon everything and flee to America to the point at which Calliope Stephenides finally becomes Cal Stephenides. Their story typifies the experience of many immigrant families who came to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. We watch as Lefty and Desdemona, guarding the secret of their marriage all the while, struggle to gain an economic foothold in Detroit that will allow them to carve out a good life for themselves and their children in their new world. It wasn't always easy for them but, by the time their grandchildren are born, Lefty and Desdemona can look with pride at the American family that they have created.
Middlesex is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, one that I expected both to be impressed by and to enjoy. And to a large degree that is what happened. But the novel did not quite work for me and I found it difficult at times to "believe" some of the characters or plot twists, especially the easy transition that Calliope made in becoming Cal. I found it hard to believe that a person who had been raised female for the entire 14 years of her life could so easily, and so suddenly, take on the persona of a teenage male. But, putting my minor quibbles aside, I do think that Middlesex is a book worth reading and I have a feeling that it has the makings of becoming a favorite book of lots of readers.
Rated at: 3.0