Book Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I loved this book and I don't say that lightly. I'm in my fourth (and last) year of college and throughout my entire academic career, never have I enjoyed an assigned book this much.
I think its best to go into this book not really knowing what to expect, but here's a tiny bit about the book: Our main character is Calliope Stephanides. In telling us her story she ventures in the tale of the last three generations of her Greek-American family. She takes us from Turkey to Detroit, Michigan to San Francisco and more. Callie witnesses desegregation, race riots, and prohibition. But this is only part of it. Callie has a secret that goes back for generations, not just the three that she tells us about. This is a tale of both history and science and it reads like a modern day epic.
Does that sound enticing to you? If not, hear me out! Here are a couple of reasons why I found this story so compelling.
1) There's something for everybody
If you enjoy studying classics or literature, gender and sexuality, stories about family that span multiple generation, coming of age, and hidden family secrets then this is right up your alley! This book is so encompassing of all of these things that I think if you give it a try you'll be hard pressed to find something you don't identify with.
2) I'm a Classics Major
Therefore, throughout most of this book I was absolutely geeking out! Because Callie's family is Greek-American there are a lot of references to Greek mythology and history. Don't be daunted when I tell you that! A good chunk of the mythology is something that you might be familiar with If you've read some Percy Jackson and the Olympians or Percy Jackson's Greek Gods by Rick Riordan. I knew much of it because I study it for my major and it felt like I was finding fun little Easter eggs every time. Even if you only know the basic premises for the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer, you'll understand a good amount of what's going on.
A little example would be Callie's own name! Calliope was one of the nine muses. In particular, she was the muse that presided over epic poetry. She's said to be the muse that Homer invoked while writing his epics. Middlesex in and of itself is its own kind of modern epic and its told by our very own Calliope Stephanides, narrator and muse. I love these kinds of little touches!
3) This book won a Pulitzer
Yep. In 2003 Middlesex won a Pulitzer. Not to mention it was also featured in Oprah's book club. So if you're the kind of person who likes to read a book for its merit (among other things) then know that this book is widely read and, I mean, it has a 3.97 star rating on goodreads. From a goodreads standard, that's not a bad rating at all!
All in all, I want to emphasize that this book as something for absolutely anyone! I love stories that span multiple generation, but even more than that imbedded in this story is the idea of fate (also another ode to Greek myth). The idea that our stories and our lives are intertwined with the overarching past of our ancestors. That some things are predetermined and are reflections of the choices of those that came before us instead of our own. In the present, Callie has to live with the choices made by her grandparents and parents in the past. There's something about that that makes me feel like a small observer in this epically charted, predetermine journey and that I'm just here for the ride.
I loved this book so much that I'm even writing two papers on it. One of them being my undergraduate dissertation!
Some favorite quotes:
- "Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind."
- "But in the end it wasn't up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we're born."
- "So do boys and men announce their intentions. They cover you like a sarcophagus lid. And call it love."
Links to find Middlesex: