Middlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


byJeffrey Eugenides

Paperback | September 23, 2003

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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.
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 S...
Title:MiddlesexFormat:PaperbackPublished:September 23, 2003Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676975658

ISBN - 13:9780676975659


Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! This is one of those books I had a lot of reservations about reading. Not because of the subject content, but because I feared the characters would not be respectfully portrayed. I am happy I was wrong. This is a very well written book. It is one I have gone on to encourage people to dive into. It kept me hooked until the last page.
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this! The story was captivating and well written and I feel like I learnt a lot about Intersex, but also about Greece/Turkey and Detroit! This was a great read!
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from MORE I'll write a full review later (maybe), but for now: WHY DID IT END. I WANT MOOOOORE. Later: It's been almost two weeks since I finished this audiobook and I still feel like I'm going through withdrawals. It is not at all the type of book I normally read, and to be honest I would have struggled through it a lot more if I were trying to read the physical book. But the audio was AMAZING. I felt like the narrator was telling me his actual life story, telling me about his real family and friends. I mean, this book won a Pulitzer Prize, so obviously it's good. But seriously: it's good. I could listen to it for the rest of my life and be happy. I was surprised when it ended - see above re: I WANT MOOOORE. My only complaint (besides the fact that it ended, because I GUESS it had to at some point) was that I still have some capital-Q Questions that weren't answered. The Questions are all spoiler-y, so if you care about that kind of thing, here's my final word: read this book! And then discuss it with me, because I have Questions and also Feelings! [STOP READING HERE IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS] My main Question is: what happened to the girl who dropped dead on stage?! What on earth was up with that?!?! I assume it wasn't explained because Cali didn't know, but... she explained so much about people's feelings and events that happened before she was born and weird ethereal genetic stuff, so why wouldn't she know what killed her classmate...?
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Award-winning! One of Jeffrey Eugenides best work!
Date published: 2018-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a complex, well-layered tale spanning decades This is gorgeously written, a tale about a character that spans not only her past, present, and future, but the life of those in her family that came before her and how their decisions shaped her world. A beautifully written tale, not fast-paced but never boring.
Date published: 2018-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from so good! such a good book. Eugenides is a great writer. interesting storyline too. #plumreview
Date published: 2018-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book I found this one hard to get into but once I did I loved it! It deals with lots of tough content but I thought overall it was uplifting.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! This book gives the reader a glimpse into the hardship of being born different and the beauty of self-acceptance.
Date published: 2017-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable! I had this book on my list for a long time and finally got the opportunity to read it. I was not disappointed! I really enjoyed the historical, intergenerational story that often seemed larger than life - accentuated by Cal's narration and flair for the dramatic. Although the reason for sharing the lengthy family history, Cal being intersex was not the most striking part of the story for me, amongst the larger themes of family, history, immigration, and gender expectations.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not my favorite.... I recently read Middlesex in my gender studies class, to be completely honest I had to force myself to continue reading because I didn't enjoy it at all. I thought that Middlesex had some great parts and dealt with heavy content that is not commonly discussed in literature such as gender & sexuality, incest, intersexuality, etc. Middlesex is definitely not for everyone
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved this i loved this book. it worked really well for the book report i did too
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful This was a great read and I would highly recommend. In fact, this is one of those books I would consider required reading because it so masterfully handles so many issues that appear in the news and modern culture.
Date published: 2017-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great story Great story, Beautifully written.
Date published: 2017-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A beautiful fictional memoir Like most, I enjoy a great Bildungsroman, and this was greatly improved by development and explanation of the unique genetic condition of the main character. The story at times can be heavy and slow-moving, but worth the patience to sit through it. It is at times gut wrenching, and at other times, heart warming and funny. It is also at sometimes tragic, and yes, even scary. But through it all, Cal shows great resilience and courage in discovering his condition, and coming to terms with his new identity.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Such a great story! Loved it!
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommend! Such a perfect book! I loved it, and have read it numerous times. Eugenides is a great story teller and I own many of his books. By far this is one of my favourite books he has ever made.
Date published: 2017-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book! Must Read! I read this book a few years ago when I was in high school. I loved it!, so much so that when my teacher would assign chapters, I would find it almost impossible to stop and not read ahead. I really want to read it again soon.
Date published: 2017-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful. This book was beautifully written and kept me fully entranced from beginning to end. Eugenides is a great story teller and I have read this book multiple times.
Date published: 2016-12-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK to read Found it sometimes very lengthy and jumping from one time to another. Interesting book but too lengthy.
Date published: 2016-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book! This is definitely one of my favorites. I thought it was wonderfully written. It was very compelling and a page turner.
Date published: 2015-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You should have read this already Bold and big. So unique and tasty, with such perspective. This book will always be one of my favourites. What a fantastic twist on the American saga.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book had me at its first four words, "I was born twice . . ." I had no idea what this book was about when I bought it. The title intrigued me only because my sister lives in Middlesex, England. I had never read anything before by Eugenides. What an amazing writer!!! He had me at, "I was born twice. . ." And what a unique story!!! Couldn't put the book down. Don't you just love books like that?!!
Date published: 2014-04-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from You should have read this already A compelling, engaging, and beautifully written story. Chapters vividly describing Smyrna and Detroit are particularly powerful. The later chapters recounted by the adult Cal did not hold the power and emotional depth of the earlier ones, but a memorable work overall.
Date published: 2014-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Epic This is one of my favouite books. I can't describe how much I loved the story, the characters, the everything. It takes a bit of time to get into it but once you do, it's an epic read. And those are rare and totally worth the effort.
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fiction disguised as fact This book begins with the words, “I was born twice,” and perhaps for that reason I feel completely justified in having read the first chapter numerous times. You see, the story simply demanded more of my attention than I was prepared to offer and required serial segments of uninterrupted time. As you probably know, Middlesex is the story of Calliope’s remarkable transformation into Cal. A story which documents the history of a genetic mutation which stretches back for generations but is documented in detail for three. It begins with the story of Cal’s grandparents – Greek immigrants who came to live in Detroit, it is followed by the story of their children and ends with the story of Cal, who is one of their grandchildren. In delectable prose accompanied by vivid imagery, Cal unveils the family history which led him to his present existence. One which he slowly reveals as the story progresses. Seeming to be impeccably researched, Middlesex is both eye opening and endearing. Tragic and triumphant. It is well worth the read if you have the time to savour the vignettes and appreciate the many layers of the stories. It is truly fiction disguised as fact.
Date published: 2010-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought-provoking, engrossing story I picked up this book for $5 or $10 at Coles, figuring that, as an Oprah's pick, it would be a pretty good book. I was right. It was an interesting subject and the story was very well-written. I must say that at first, the topic took me out of my comfort zone, but I really felt for the main character and as I got into the story, I could not put this book down. I will definitely read this again.
Date published: 2010-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two stories for the price of one An amazing novel, one just as much about immigration as the story of a hermaphrodite, which is perhaps why some readers are discouraged by the constant narration changes between the past and the present. Well worth the read, and a stunning Pulitzer-Prize winning text that I have been re-reading ever since.
Date published: 2008-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from GOOD!!! Very good read! The story takes you behind the story of a whole family and how time and a secret has changed them. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to anyone who wants a nice and interesting novel.
Date published: 2008-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very, Very Good One of the best books I have read. The book is rich in its meanings and creativity. It is not only a book exploring one's own sexuality, but a book about family values, familial pressures and social conformity. Euginides has created characters so real and lovable that you're a little disappointed that book ends.
Date published: 2008-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic This is a beautifully written book. The narration is phenomenal as it subtly changes as the character's changes are revealed.
Date published: 2008-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and Engrossing Amazing story, and so involving. The main subject of the novel and aspects of incest aren't really something I may necessarily be comfortable with, but the story just pulls you in. It's so frank and gives you wonderful american historical anecdotes without being tedious. Well worth the read.
Date published: 2008-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Book was well written. I'd give it 5 stars.
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! What a great book. It was so well written and so enjoyable to read. I decided to get this book after seeing it on the Oprah show. I really did not know what it was going to be all about. It's a brillent story and much more than I expected. I would highly recommend it!
Date published: 2008-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oprah was right! What a fantastic read. Not only do you get intertwined in the main character's struggle and eventual triumph, but you experience the gift of time as you travel through the eras that define the current day. The imagery was rich, the narration full of eloquent prose. I loved this book.
Date published: 2008-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books I've read in awhile! Not living too far away from Detroit and Greektown it brought back memories and also the race riots but the story of Calliope or Cal was very well written and the story was very good.
Date published: 2008-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Review I started off reading this book not knowing what to expect. It took me a while to get into it, but once the story began to unfold, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. The concept was very unique, and the overall plot was well thought out. That being said, slogging through some of the details was sometimes painful. The book would have been improved with better editing. Furthermore, I did not feel any emotional connection with the characters. Consequently, the tragedies that befell the family did not affect me as deeply as they should have. Still, it was an interesting and thought provoking look into the life of a hermaphrodite. Certainly not the best book I've read, but also not one that I would discourage anyone from picking up.
Date published: 2007-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book This is an amazing book. The writing is wonderful, the characters seem so real you feel you know them and you get a real feel for the place and time. I highly recommend this book.
Date published: 2007-11-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Appauling how could it have won any awards This book is slow and arduous and seems to be a social history lesson for the first 400 pages it is not until 420 we establish the real story of Cal, but i read on anticipating some fantastic ending. I was disappointed that my questions were merely passed over as though they were irrelevant. DO NOT BUY. As a book club member i have really enjoyed books such as the kite runner, the red tent, and this is no where near as good a read as those titles!
Date published: 2007-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful read Eugenides deals with a controversial subject with humour and sensitivity. Callie is a character you will come to love, and feel for, and with.
Date published: 2007-10-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from what an insightful book I read this book -as most people did- because Oprah recommended it. I found it quite enjoyable and very interesting. I loved the way the author wrote the book and referred to us the reader throughout his story telling.
Date published: 2007-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Read I loved this book - I think his writing and description of events were wonderful - I would have no problem recommending this.
Date published: 2007-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Read!! I'm a very particular reader and choser of books. When I go into a store and find something that catches my eye I first pick it up and quickly read the back summary while feeling the weight of the book in my palm, then I flip through the pages and see how big or small the font is, preferably smaller as this will only elongate the time I spend reading the book, and then I possibly read several paragraphs of the actual book to get the feel of the authors style of writing. If all are pleasing, then I usually have a struggle to decide between several novels. This one was a huge PASS. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hadn't even read the Virgin Suicides before. I like how the family dynamics were thoroughly explained, and you find out later that Cal is actually reading the 'minds' and thoughts of the characters in order to develop the narrative. Quick and interesting and perhaps the only drawback is that Eugenides hasn't a longer list of novels under his belt.
Date published: 2006-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting When I first heard of this book, it sounded a little strange to me, but after I read the first chapter I couldn't put it down. The story of Cal is fascinating and the historical facts that the author weaves into the story of his life make the book one of the most interesting I have ever read. I woudl definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a great summer read.
Date published: 2006-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourites..... I have read this book 3 times so far and I am still not sick of it. It is, by far, one of the best novels I have ever read. Cal is one of the most well-written characters and I quickly fell in love with her...er..him and the family. A great read!
Date published: 2005-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Middlesex Although at first glance, I thought this book to be little too strange , I was instantly drawn to the characters, their history, and thier motivations. I was waiting for a true hit to read this summer and found it in Middlesex. Thoughtfully written, with a keen sensitivity, this book does not judge. The story is an amazing journey and I am thrilled to have found it! A must read for all book lovers!!!
Date published: 2005-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I first read the Virgin Suicided and I couldn't put it down, so when this book came out I snatched it up. Both great books that I absolutely loved and enjoyed. I definately recommend them both, after you finish reading his books you can't help but think about the characters long after.
Date published: 2003-10-21

Read from the Book

The Silver SpoonI 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 forty-one, I feel another birth coming on. After, decades of neglect, I find myself thinking about departed great-aunts and -uncles, long-lost grandfathers, unknown fifth cousins, or, in the case of an inbred family like mine, all those things in one. And so before it's too late I want to get it down for good: this roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time. Sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome! Sing how it bloomed two and a half centuries ago on the slopes of Mount Olympus, while the goats bleated and the olives dropped. Sing how it passed down through nine generations, gathering invisibly within the polluted pool of the Stephanides family. And sing how Providence, in the guise of a massacre, sent the gene flying again; how it blew like a seed across the sea to America, where it drifted through our industrial rains until it fell to earth in the fertile soil of my mother's own mid-western womb.Sorry if I get a little Homeric at times. That's genetic, too.* * * * *Three months before I was born, in the aftermath of one of our elaborate Sunday dinners, my grandmother Desdemona Stephanides ordered my brother to get her silkworm box. Chapter Eleven had been heading toward the kitchen for a second helping of rice pudding when she blocked his way. At fifty-seven, with her short, squat figure and intimidating hairnet, my grandmother was perfectly designed for blocking people's paths. Behind her in the kitchen, the day's large female contingent had congregated, laughing and whispering. Intrigued, Chapter Eleven leaned sideways to see what was going on, but Desdemona reached out and firmly pinched his cheek. Having regained his attention, she sketched a rectangle in the air and pointed at the ceiling. Then, through her ill-fitting dentures, she said, "Go for yia yia, dolly mou."Chapter Eleven knew what to do. He ran across the hall into the living room. On all fours he scrambled up the formal staircase to the second floor. He raced past the bedrooms along the upstairs corridor. At the far end was a nearly invisible door, wallpapered over like the entrance to a secret passageway. Chapter Eleven located the tiny doorknob level with his head and, using all his strength, pulled it open. Another set of stairs lay behind it. For a long moment my brother stared hesitantly into the darkness above, before climbing, very slowly now, up to the attic where my grandparents lived.In sneakers he passed beneath the twelve damply newspapered birdcages suspended from the rafters. With a brave face he immersed himself in the sour odor of the parakeets, and in my grandparents' own particular aroma, a mixture of mothballs and hashish. He negotiated his way past my grandfather's book-piled desk and his collection of rebetika records. Finally, bumping into the leather ottoman and the circular coffee table made of brass, he found my grandparents' bed and, under it, the silkworm box.Carved from olivewood, a little bigger than a shoe box, it had a tin lid perforated by tiny airholes and inset with the icon of an unrecognizable saint. The saint's face had been rubbed off, but the fingers of his right hand were raised to bless a short, purple, terrifically self-confident-looking mulberry tree. After gazing awhile at this vivid botanical presence, Chapter Eleven pulled the box from under the bed and opened it. Inside were the two wedding crowns made from rope and, coiled like snakes, the two long braids of hair, each tied with a crumbling black ribbon. He poked one of the braids with his index finger. Just then a parakeet squawked, making my brother jump, and he closed the box, tucked it under his arm, and carried it downstairs to Desdemona.She was still waiting in the doorway. Taking the silkworm box out of his hands, she turned back into the kitchen. At this point Chapter Eleven was granted a view of the room, where all the women now fell silent. They moved aside to let Desdemona pass and there, in the middle of the linoleum, was my mother. Tessie Stephanides was leaning back in a kitchen chair, pinned beneath the immense, drum-tight globe of her pregnant belly. She had a happy, helpless expression on her face, which was flushed and hot. Desdemona set the silkworm box on the kitchen table and, opened the lid. She reached under the wedding crowns and the hair braids to come up with something Chapter Eleven hadn't seen: a silver spoon. She tied a piece of string to the spoon's handle. Then, stooping forward, she dangled the spoon over my mother's swollen belly. And, by extension, over me.Up until now Desdemona had had a perfect record: twenty-three correct guesses. Shed known that Tessie was going to be Tessie. She'd predicted the sex of my brother and of all the babies of her friends at church. The only children whose genders she hadn't divined were her own, because it was bad luck for a mother to plumb the mysteries of her own womb. Fearlessly, however, she plumbed my mother's. After some initial hesitation, the spoon swung north to south, which meant that I was going to be a boy.Splay-legged in the chair, my mother tried to smile. She didn't want a boy. She had one already. In fact, she was so certain I was going to be a girl that she'd picked out only one name for me: Calliope. But when my grandmother shouted in Greek, "A boy!" the cry went around the room, and out into the hall, and across the hall into the living room where the men were arguing politics. And my mother, hearing it repeated so many times, began to believe it might be true.As soon as the cry reached my father, however, he marched into the kitchen to tell his mother that, this time at least, her spoon was wrong. "And how you know so much?" Desdemona asked him. To which he replied what many Americans of his generation would have:"It's science, Ma."* * * * *Ever since they had decided to have another child -- the diner was doing well and Chapter Eleven was long out of diapers -- Milton and Tessie had been in agreement that they wanted a daughter. Chapter Eleven had just turned five years old. He'd recently found a dead bird in the yard, bringing it into the house to show his mother. He liked shooting things, hammering things, smashing things, and wrestling with his father. In such a masculine household, Tessie had begun to feel like the odd woman out and saw herself in ten years' time imprisoned in a world of hubcaps and hernias. My mother pictured a daughter as a counterinsurgent: a fellow lover of lapdogs, a seconder of proposals to attend the Ice Capades. In the spring of 1959, when discussions of my fertilization got under way, my mother couldn't foresee that women would soon be burning their brassieres by the thousand. Hers were padded, stiff, fire-retardant. As much as Tessie loved her son, she knew there were certain things she'd be able to share only with a daughter.On his morning drive to work, my father had been seeing visions of an irresistibly sweet, dark-eyed little girl. She sat on the seat beside him -- mostly during stoplights -- directing questions at his patient, all-knowing ear. "What do you call that thing, Daddy?" 'That? That's the Cadillac seal." "What's the Cadillac seal?" "Well, a long time ago, there was a French explorer named Cadillac, and he was the one who discovered Detroit. And that seal was his family seal, from France." "What's France?" "France is a country in Europe." "What's Europe?" "It's a continent, which is like a great big piece of land, way, way bigger than a country. But Cadillacs don't come from Europe anymore, kukla. They come from right here in the good old U.S.A." The light turned green and he drove on. But my prototype lingered. She was there at the next light and the next. So pleasant was her company that my father, a man loaded with initiative, decided to see what he could do to turn his vision into reality.Thus: for some time now, in the living room where the men discussed politics, they had also been discussing the velocity of sperm. Peter Tatakis, "Uncle Pete" as we called him, was a leading member of the debating society that formed every week on our black love seats. A lifelong bachelor, he had no family in America and so had become attached to ours. Every Sunday he arrived in his wine-dark Buick, a tall, prune-faced, sad-seeming man with an incongruously vital head of wavy hair. He was not interested in children. A proponent of the Great Books series -- which he had read twice -- Uncle Pete was engaged with serious thought and Italian opera. He had a passion, in history, for Edward Gibbon, and, in literature, for the journals of Madame de Staël. He liked to quote that witty lady's opinion on the German language, which held that German wasn't good for conversation because you had to wait to the end of the sentence for the verb, and so couldn't interrupt. Uncle Pete had wanted to become a doctor, but the "catastrophe" had ended that dream. In the United States, he'd put himself through two years of chiropractic school, and now ran a small office in Birmingham with a human skeleton he was still paying for in installments. In those days, chiropractors had a somewhat dubious reputation. People didn't come to Uncle Pete to free up their kundalini. He cracked necks, straightened spines, and made custom arch supports out of foam rubber. Still, he was the closest thing to a doctor we had in the house on those Sunday afternoons. As a young man he'd had half his stomach surgically removed, and now after dinner always drank a Pepsi-Cola to help digest his meal. The soft drink had been named for the digestive enzyme pepsin, he sagely told us, and so was suited to the task.From the Hardcover edition.

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?

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 charm, concealing . . . the ache of earned wisdom beneath bushels of inventive storytelling"—Adam Begley, The New York Observer"A wonderfully rich, ambitious novel -- it deserves to be a huge success."—Salman Rushdie, New York Magazine"Here's your heads-up . . . Yes, it's that good . . . A novel of chance, family, sex, surgery, and America, it contains multitudes."—Jonathan Miles, Men's Journal"...an uproarious epic, at once funny and sad, about misplaced identities and family secrets.... Mr. Eugenides has a keen sociological eye for 20th-century American life.... But it's his emotional wisdom, his nuanced insight into his characters' inner lives, that lends this book its cumulative power."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times"Jeffrey Eugenides's rollicking, gleefully inventive second novel, Middlesex, serves as a tribute to Nabokovian themes. It provides not only incest à la Ada and a Lolita-style road trip, but enough dense detail to keep fans of close reading manically busy."—The Washington Post"delightful... a big-hearted engine of a novel [with] epic-proportioned emotions and an intelligent, exuberant voice."—Zsuzsi Gartner, The Globe and Mail"The pay-off for the reader is huge. Eugenides has taken all the trials and joys of the traditional coming-of-age novel and made them twice (three times?) as rich."—The Montreal Gazette"Jeffrey Eugenides’ expansive and radiantly generous second novel … feels rich with treats, including some handsome writing….One of the delights of Middlesex is how soundly it’s constructed, with motifs and characters weaving through the novel’s various episodes, pulling it tight. The book’s length feels like its author’s arms are stretching farther and farther to encompass more people, more life…. It is a colossal act of curiosity, of imagination and of love."—The New York Times Review of Books"Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the book is Eugenides’ ability to feel his way into the girl, Callie, and the man,Cal. It’s difficult to imagine any serious male writer of earlier eras so effortlessly transcending the stereotypes of gender. This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large, general audience."—Publisher's Weekly"Jeffrey Eugenides is a big and big-hearted talent, and Middlesex is a weird, wonderful novel that will sweep you off your feet."—Jonathan Franzen"Middlesex vibrates with wit. . . . A virtuosic combination of elegy, sociohistorical study, and picaresque adventure: altogether irresistible."—Kirkus Reviews"Wildly imaginative and engrossing . . . [Middlesex] skillfully bends our notions of gender . . . with its affecting characterization of a brave and lonely soul and its vivid depiction of exactly what it means to be both male and female."—Booklist