Thursday, June 28, 2007

good read: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

During every Family Vacation there is an obligatory trip to the nearest bookstore. This most recent trip, we visited a little place in Brainerd, Minnesota. There I saw Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (author of The Virgin Suicides). My sister had heard good things about it and as you can see by the cover, it won the Pulitzer Prize, so I flipped it open and read the first sentence:

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 Potoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

How's that for an attention grabber?! I was hooked and knew I had to keep reading.

Now, something you probably don't know about me is that I am pretty intrigued by gender identity issues. I have watched several documentaries and television shows on transgendered people (those who feel they were born into the wrong body) and read whatever articles I come across as well. Along these same lines, I'm also mildly fascinated with hermaphroditism. And that is what this book is actually about. The main character is a hermaphrodite, in this case, a genetic XY male who appears as a baby to have female genitalia. In fact, nobody knows Callie is actually a boy until she is 14.

The story really begins with Cal's grandparents--Greek immigrants who come to the US from Turkey in the 1920's. Their story, as well as Cal's parent's is very important to why Call is who he is. The author does an amazing job weaving the past and present together. The writing is descriptive without being boring. Eugenides is so good in fact that I wondered how he could write this without being a hermaphrodite himself. (He's not.) He takes the story of a girl who grows up to be a man and shows us how much Cal is like all of us. And how our family histories are part of who we are, whether we like it or not.

This book also happens to be Oprah's pick for the summer. I didn't realize that until after I read it, but I can definitely see why she chose it. It is at times heartbreaking, often funny, and full of poignant moments. This is a coming of age story like none I've ever read before. And totally deserving of the Pulitzer. I highly recommend it.

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