Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

middlesexFiction — print. Picador, 2003. Originally published 2002. 529 pgs. Purchased.

Last week was Rainbow Week at my university. Rainbow Week is a celebration of GLBTQ students as well as a week to raise awareness about issues affecting these students. For example, trying to establish gender neutral bathrooms so that no student is forced to make a statement about their gender every single day. I didn’t decide to read Eugenides’ novel for this reason, but it did fit in nicely to the week’s theme. Originally, I thought the book was about a transgendered child transition from female to male.

However, the book is actually about Cal (formally known as Calliope), a hermaphrodite, and the family secret that causes the genetic mutation that makes her that way. Covering eight decades of family history and three generations, the story begins with the tale of two people, Desdemona and Lefty.

Sister and brother, the two immigrate to America and start an incestuous relationship. They present themselves as husband and wife after creating an elaborate love affair on the boat over and establish themselves as a family in this new country. As time passes, Desdemona and Lefty become parents to a boy and girl and then grandparents to a boy and a child incorrectly labeled as a girl.

I mentioned earlier this month that I’ve given up on books for involving incestuous relationships. I find them incredibility disgusting and I only kept reading because I thought Eugenides was using this as a reasoning for transgendering and wanted to understand his argument since I disagree with him. Of course,this was when I thought Cal was transgendered rather than a hermaphrodite. (By the way, when telling a friend about this book, she got really upset at the use of hermaphrodite.)

I’m glad I kept going because I was really enthralled with this book. Not only was the depiction of this topic incredibly interesting but I loved the choice of setting for this tale — Detroit. Depicting the rise and fall of this city was of particular interesting because of how the population decline of the city has been in the news recently.

I was worried that at 529 pages it would take me quite some time to read this novel. Instead, I found myself itching to read more and forcing myself to put the book down at night so I could get some sleep. Such an fascinating read!

Others’ Thoughts:


  1. I bought a copy of Middlesex not long ago based on all the enthusiastic reviews I’d read and heard. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I hope to get to it sometime in 2011. I’m looking forward to it.


  2. I felt similarly about both the setting and length of this book. I thought Eugenides did an amazing job setting the sense of place, especially Detroit. And the length of it did make me nervous, but for the most part I felt like it read fast. Overall, I really liked this book.


  3. I get the impression that in 50 years when English professors speak of great works of fiction from the early 21st century, they will reference this novel. It’s spectacular.


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