Saturday, July 07, 2007

Middlesex: A Legacy of Confusion


We are who we are at birth, and there’s not much we can do to change that. But for some the truth of their genetic makeup is a shocking reality.

I’m reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, the first pick of my new book club, composed of myself and two other Bloggers, both much younger than I am. Over lunch we recognized how much we all love to read good books, and how we needed to be goaded into reading sometimes.

Little did I realize the book was about a hermaphrodite when I agreed to read it. But it’s about so much more than the story of sexual confusion. It takes place in Greece and in Detroit, of all places. It weaves fiction around the truth of the war between the Greeks and the Turks, the rise of Islam, and the race riots in Detroit.

I’m only halfway through at this point, but I’m having hard time putting it down because it is the page-turner that I have been missing in my other (couples) book club. We agreed to meet halfway through and then at the end to discuss the book over dinner. I like the idea of checking in midway through.

The author suggests that our genetic makeup may have been determined with the first humans, sort of like a rather infinite series of nesting dolls that get opened with each successive generation. The marriage of siblings, as depicted in the book, is the cause for the birth of a child with a rare genetic anomaly called 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome. This would be Cal, who was Calliope until she hit puberty.

What a blow to reach puberty and find out you aren’t at all who you thought you were. There are obviously life-long implications for the sexual life of a hermaphrodite. It made me wonder if I had ever known anyone with this genetic anomaly. It made me remember a visit long ago to an isolated area of Norway, where a branch of my father’s family originated. There were some very strange-looking people living on that farm in the mid-70's. I’m sure this is one of many instances when the admonition not to marry a close relative has been ignored as hormones raged and the choices were few.

I’m anxious to find out about how Cal deals with the genetic hand he is dealt. I’m also wondering if the story is autobiographical. Cal’s description exactly matches the face I see on the back cover of the book.

Have you read Middlesex? If so, what did you think of it?

9 Comments:

Blogger GEWELS said...

Oooh! I can't wait to read it. I've been lamenting my lack of good reading material lately- and have resorted to reading about Lincoln's assasination and the hunt for John Wilkes Boothe. Unfortunately, I keep falling asleep.

I'm going to get it this weekend.
Thanks for the recommendation.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

I read it in my old book club. I LOVED it. The ending...well, I can't quite recall it...but it was so much fun to read, I didn't want it to end.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just bought it today. Finished Book One. It IS a pageturner.
FL

6:33 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gewels -- Hope you found the book. I guarantee it will keep your attention.

Jamy -- It's a relatively long book, but you are right -- I'm already hoping I won't run out of pages.

FL -- What a coincidence that you are reading this too. If you're stopping through DC next Friday night, you can join me and the girls for our mid-book get-together -- seriously! You would really love them.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I thought it was fantastic. I might have to reread it. Anyone who can make hermaphrodites seem "normal" is definitely worth a second read.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I love the fact that the book provides such a good story of this extended Greek family, as well as the personal story of the protagonist.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Sounds like a unique read. Interesting that you think you've actually seen this type of thing in Norway but I can understand how it happens. Hope the ending lives up to the rest of the book.

2:53 PM  
Blogger EJ Takes Life said...

I really enjoyed Middlesex, but got more out of the portrait of Detroit through the twentieth century than the hermaphrodite plotline. However, I was born in Detroit and so am somewhat prejudiced.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I'll fill you in on the second half after I read it!

EJ -- I quite agree. I just finished the part about the race riots and found it hard to sort out the story from the facts. I think my husband, another Detroiter, will find it fascinating.

10:27 PM  

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