Middlesex

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Middlesex

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Knopf Canada | September 23, 2003 | Trade Paperback |

4.3846 out of 5 rating. 26 Reviews
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The first words of Jeffrey Eugenides exuberant and capacious novel Middlesex take us right to the heart of its unique narrator: "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."

Middlesex is the story of Cal or Calliope Stephanides, a comic epic of a family's American life, and the expansive history of a gene travelling down through time, starting with a rare genetic mutation. In 1922, Desdemona and Eleutherios ("Lefty") Stephanides, brother and sister, leave the war-ravaged village of Bithynios in Asia Minor. With their parents dead and their village almost empty, Desdemona and Lefty have gradually been drawn closer together and fallen in love. As the Turks invade and the Greeks abandon the port of Smyrna, Lefty and Desdemona -- Callie's grandparents -- escape to reinvent themselves as a married couple in America.

Jeffrey Eugenides recounts the Stephanides family's experiences over the next fifty years with gusto and delight. Upon their arrival in Detroit, Lefty goes to work at the Ford motor plant and the couple live with Desdemona's cousin Sourmelina -- a woman with her own secrets -- and her bootlegging husband Jimmy Zizmo. After Jimmy disappears and the Stephanides' son Milton is born, Lefty opens a speakeasy called the Zebra Room, and Desdemona goes to work tending silkworms for the Nation of Islam.

Milton serves in the Navy in World War II and returns to marry his cousin Tessie, Sourmelina's daughter, and the errant gene comes closer to expression. Milton takes over the family business and they have two children, Calliope and Chapter Eleven, but as their fortunes rise the city's fall, and Detroit is torn by riots with the intensity of warfare. The family moves into a new home called Middlesex in a tony suburb, and Calliope, who had been a beautiful little girl, is sent to private school.

So begins one of the strangest, most affecting adolescences in literature. As time passes Calliope gets taller and gawkier without developing into womanhood. Her classmates' bodies change and they grow interested in boys; Callie remains flat-chested and waits in vain for her first period. And she has a curiously intense friendship with a girl at her school, the beautiful and confident Obscure Object of Desire.

It is only when she has an accident at the Obscure Object's summer house and is examined by an emergency room doctor that Callie and her parents discover that she isn't like other girls. She is referred to an eminent New York doctor who, after extensive physical and psychological testing, pronounces her genetically male: 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome caused her true genital characteristics to remain hidden until puberty. Callie is a hermaphrodite. Since she was raised as a girl, Dr. Luce recommends cosmetic surgery and hormone injections to make her seem more fully female.

But Callie refuses to be something she is not. She runs away, cuts her hair short and hitch-hikes across the country to California, calling himself Cal. And after some difficulties -- and performances in a strip club in San Francisco at the height of sexual liberation -- Cal learns to relish being both male and female. One more unexpected family tragedy, and some old revelations, await in Detroit.

This animated and moving story is narrated by Cal Stephanides, now an American diplomat living in Berlin. While telling us about his past, he fumbles towards a romantic relationship with an artist who might be able to accept him for the unique person he is.

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: September 23, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676975658

ISBN - 13: 9780676975659

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– More About This Product –

Middlesex

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Format: Trade Paperback

Published: September 23, 2003

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676975658

ISBN - 13: 9780676975659

Read from the Book

The Silver Spoon 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. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce''s study, "Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites," published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you''ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity . That''s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes. My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver''s license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I''m a former field hockey goalie, longstanding member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox liturgy, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then the other. I''ve been ridiculed by classmates, guinea-pigged by doctors, palpated by specialists, and researched by the March of Dimes. A redheaded girl from Grosse Pointe fell in love with me, not knowing what I was. (Her brother liked me, too.) An army tank led me into urban battle once; a swimming pool turned me into myth; I''ve left my body in order to occupy others -- and all this happened before I turned sixteen. But now, at the age of for
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From the Publisher

The first words of Jeffrey Eugenides exuberant and capacious novel Middlesex take us right to the heart of its unique narrator: "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."

Middlesex is the story of Cal or Calliope Stephanides, a comic epic of a family's American life, and the expansive history of a gene travelling down through time, starting with a rare genetic mutation. In 1922, Desdemona and Eleutherios ("Lefty") Stephanides, brother and sister, leave the war-ravaged village of Bithynios in Asia Minor. With their parents dead and their village almost empty, Desdemona and Lefty have gradually been drawn closer together and fallen in love. As the Turks invade and the Greeks abandon the port of Smyrna, Lefty and Desdemona -- Callie's grandparents -- escape to reinvent themselves as a married couple in America.

Jeffrey Eugenides recounts the Stephanides family's experiences over the next fifty years with gusto and delight. Upon their arrival in Detroit, Lefty goes to work at the Ford motor plant and the couple live with Desdemona's cousin Sourmelina -- a woman with her own secrets -- and her bootlegging husband Jimmy Zizmo. After Jimmy disappears and the Stephanides' son Milton is born, Lefty opens a speakeasy called the Zebra Room, and Desdemona goes to work tending silkworms for the Nation of Islam.

Milton serves in the Navy in World War II and returns to marry his cousin Tessie, Sourmelina's daughter, and the errant gene comes closer to expression. Milton takes over the family business and they have two children, Calliope and Chapter Eleven, but as their fortunes rise the city's fall, and Detroit is torn by riots with the intensity of warfare. The family moves into a new home called Middlesex in a tony suburb, and Calliope, who had been a beautiful little girl, is sent to private school.

So begins one of the strangest, most affecting adolescences in literature. As time passes Calliope gets taller and gawkier without developing into womanhood. Her classmates' bodies change and they grow interested in boys; Callie remains flat-chested and waits in vain for her first period. And she has a curiously intense friendship with a girl at her school, the beautiful and confident Obscure Object of Desire.

It is only when she has an accident at the Obscure Object's summer house and is examined by an emergency room doctor that Callie and her parents discover that she isn't like other girls. She is referred to an eminent New York doctor who, after extensive physical and psychological testing, pronounces her genetically male: 5-alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome caused her true genital characteristics to remain hidden until puberty. Callie is a hermaphrodite. Since she was raised as a girl, Dr. Luce recommends cosmetic surgery and hormone injections to make her seem more fully female.

But Callie refuses to be something she is not. She runs away, cuts her hair short and hitch-hikes across the country to California, calling himself Cal. And after some difficulties -- and performances in a strip club in San Francisco at the height of sexual liberation -- Cal learns to relish being both male and female. One more unexpected family tragedy, and some old revelations, await in Detroit.

This animated and moving story is narrated by Cal Stephanides, now an American diplomat living in Berlin. While telling us about his past, he fumbles towards a romantic relationship with an artist who might be able to accept him for the unique person he is.

About the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of an American-born father whose Greek parents emigrated from Asia Minor and an American mother of Anglo-Irish descent. After graduating from Brown University and Stanford University, in 1988 Jeffrey Eugenides published his first short story. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides , was published in 1993 to rapturous acclaim. The compelling, tender and wickedly humorous story of the five Lisbon sisters in “the year of the suicides,” told in a voice representing the eclectic group of men who came under their spell, The Virgin Suicides was an immediate off-beat success. It has been translated into fifteen languages and made into a feature film, and its author was named one of America’s best young novelists by both Granta and The New Yorker . Middlesex , his second novel, won the Pulitzer Prize, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was hailed as a brilliant, original and joyful book by critics and readers alike. The New York Times Book Review described Middlesex as a “a colossal act of curiosity, of imagination and of love”; Salman Rushdie called it “A wonderfully rich, ambitious novel”; the Los Angeles Times announced that with it, Jeffrey Eugenides “emerged as the great American writer that many of us suspected him of being.” Jeffrey Eugenides’ fiction has appeared in The New Yorker , The Paris Review , The Yale Review , Best Ame
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Editorial Reviews

"Funny, sad, tragic, and beautifully rendered." — The Ottawa Citizen "A tenderly rendered and often hilariously bizarre saga." — The Edmonton Journal "This novel is longer, more populated, sadder, funnier, bigger in every way than its predecessor. What hasn’t changed is what set its author apart in the first place: an empathy and curiosity that ranges across generations and gender, and a willingness to enter heavily mined areas -- especially with regard to sex -- where lesser writers fear to tread…. Eugenides has taken all the trials and joys of the traditional coming-of-age novel and in one fell swoop made them twice (three times?) as rich." — The Gazette (Montreal) "Delightful…. infectious… bold… The story is more about genetics than gender confusion, more family saga than freak show…. It’s about the transatlantic journey of a single gene and how the vagaries of love and hate generations removed come to bear on an individual life." — The Globe and Mail "[Since The Virgin Suicides ] we’ve been wanting a big fat novel that would consume us…. We have it now. I just finished reading it. Middlesex is in every way that big novel." — The Vancouver Sun "He has emerged as the great American writer that many of us suspected him of being." —Jeff Turrentine, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Sweeps the reader along with easy grace and c
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Bookclub Guide

1. What was your overall impression of Middlesex? It is such a diverse and huge read: did you connect more with some parts of the novel than others? Why? If you were to sum up this novel to a friend, what kind of book would you say it is?

2. "Every novelist needs a hermaphroditic imagination," Jeffrey Eugenides has said. "We have to get into the heads of characters of both sexes, after all. So hermaphroditism is part of the job." How well does Middlesex relate a girl's experience and the voice of the man she grows up to be?

3. Why is Callie's brother referred to, throughout the novel, as "Chapter Eleven"?

4. Towards the end of the novel, Cal says "There have been hermaphrodites like me since the world began. But as I came out from my holding pen it was possible that no generation other than my brother's was as well disposed to accept me." Do you agree? What does Middlesex have to tell us about the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 70s?

5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Self by Yann Martel, not to mention the figure of Tiresias in Greek myth: what's so attractive about women who become men (and vice versa) as a literary subject?

6. Middlesex is narrated by Cal, the grown-up version of Callie. As well as describing things that took place long before his birth, he talks of his own present-day experiences in Berlin. Why do you think the novel is narrated in this dual way, switching between the past and the present? Is it effective?

7. Who was your favourite minor character in the book, and who was the least appealing? Jimmy Zizmo? Dr Luce? The Obscure Object? Jerome?

8. Are Callie's experiences, in an extreme way, the difficulties of every adolescence -- the confusions of growing up, discovering one's body, one's sexuality and identity? Did anything in Callie's teenage years remind you of your own?

9. Which did you enjoy more: the story of the Stephanides family before Callie's birth (the 1920s to the 1950s), or after (the 1960s and 1970s)? Why?

10. What's the significance of place in Middlesex? How do the embattled and divided locations -- Smyrna, Detroit, Berlin -- affect events and inform the characters' experiences?

11. Who do you think would get more out of Middlesex: male readers or female readers? Why?

12. What does Middlesex make you think about the idea of normality -- norms of gender identity, sexual identity, class or race. You might think not only of Cal/Callie, but also Sourmelina, the family's experience as immigrants, the riots in Detroit, etc. Does Middlesex suggest that it's better to fit in or make one's own path?

13. What's the importance of fate -- thought of as mythological, romantic, or genetic -- to Middlesex? What about luck, chance and coincidence?

14. Why does Callie choose to be Cal? Do you think it's the right thing to do? More generally, what is the significance of personal choice in issues as fundamental as gender and sexuality?

15. Middlesex was exhaustively researched. What do you know about historical hermaphrodites, transvestites, eunuchs, and other challenges to the "traditional" classification of genders? What effect do such people have on what we think men and women are? How are such individuals treated today?

16. Finally, some questions about what's not in the book: How do you think Cal's family dealt with him over the few years after his return as a man? What was Cal's life like in the 1980s and 1990s? What do you think happens next, once the novel is over: can Cal and Julie Kikuchi find happiness together?

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