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Middlesex [Paperback]

Jeffrey Eugenides
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 22.00
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Book Description

Sept. 23 2003
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.

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Product Description

From Amazon

"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." And so begins Middlesex, the mesmerizing saga of a near-mythic Greek American family and the "roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time." The odd but utterly believable story of Cal Stephanides, and how this 41-year-old hermaphrodite was raised as Calliope, is at the tender heart of this long-awaited second novel from Jeffrey Eugenides, whose elegant and haunting 1993 debut, The Virgin Suicides, remains one of the finest first novels of recent memory.

Eugenides weaves together a kaleidoscopic narrative spanning 80 years of a stained family history, from a fateful incestuous union in a small town in early 1920s Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit; from the early days of Ford Motors to the heated 1967 race riots; from the tony suburbs of Grosse Pointe and a confusing, aching adolescent love story to modern-day Berlin. Eugenides's command of the narrative is astonishing. He balances Cal/Callie's shifting voices convincingly, spinning this strange and often unsettling story with intelligence, insight, and generous amounts of humor:

Emotions, in my experience aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." … I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." ... I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever.

When you get to the end of this splendorous book, when you suddenly realize that after hundreds of pages you have only a few more left to turn over, you'll experience a quick pang of regret knowing that your time with Cal is coming to a close, and you may even resist finishing it--putting it aside for an hour or two, or maybe overnight--just so that this wondrous, magical novel might never end. --Brad Thomas Parsons --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Without a doubt, this audio edition of Eugenides's long-awaited second novel (after The Virgin Suicides) represents an acme of the audiobook genre: the whole equals much more than the sum of its parts. This is simultaneously the tale of a gene passed down through three generations and the story of Calliope Stephanides, the recipient of that gene. Never quite feeling at home in her body, Callie discovered at the age of 14 that she is, in fact, genetically, if not completely anatomically, a boy. From this point on she becomes Cal, and it is Cal, the 41-year-old man, who narrates the story, dipping all the way back in history to the time of his grandparents' incestuous relationship in war-torn Turkey. Tabori's performance of the text is phenomenal. His somewhat high-register, wavering voice, reminiscent of a young Burgess Meredith, is completely convincing as both the young female Callie and the older male Cal. Not only are his interpretations of the characters astonishingly credible, but his internalization of the narrative is nothing short of amazing. Listeners will feel this exhilarating story is being told personally to them for the very first time. Additionally, the intro music at the beginning of each of the 28 sides is different, with each snippet offering a different style of music, reflecting the current timeline and mood of the story. This adds a subtle but wonderful effect.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read all year June 20 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I'm always searching for a great book to read, and frankly this one was way down my list due to the subject matter, which I didn't think would interest me. How wrong I was! Eugenides' writing sings! I laughed out loud at one point, and I felt the character's pain in others. His masterful ability to weave this story across three generations of an eccentric Greek family makes for fast and enjoyable reading. Several times he put into words concepts and feelings that are not usually conveyed in print. A wonderful book that I will recommend whole-heartedly to my bibliophile friends. Usually I don't bother to review a book, but in this case I think that Eugenides should be encouraged to write another book as quickly as possible! This is one writer that I'll be on the look out for in the future.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hemaphorodite's family history June 13 2003
Format:Hardcover
More than just the memoir of a 41 year old hemaphrodite, Middlesex is his family's history, focusing on his grandparents, a brother and sister who married, passing on a gene that determined Calliope Stephanides fate. The story goes back to their native Greece and the civil strife that led the grandparents to America, where they settled in Detroit, whose own strife, racial riots in the 1960s, would help determine the family's fate. Callie grows up amidst all of it, a happy go lucky girl early in life who doesn't develop the way her friends do at adolesence, which is when things get interesting. The family goes to New York to see the world's foremost gender research doctor, who suggests hormones and minor surgery to restore Callie's feminity. But Callie calls him a liar and takes off, heading West to SF where she lives for awhile, displaying herself in a porn shop. In the end is a family reunion, the high point being a conversation with her grandmother, in her 80s and nearly gone, but lucid enough to admit the truth about her past, which sheds light on Cal's present. A fascinating and impressive book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book Aug. 30 2007
Format:Paperback
I wasn't sure if I would like this book initially. A friend had recommended Middlesex to me a couple of years ago and I had made a mental note but other books kept bumping this one down the list. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and characters. The story spans 3 generations and ultimately captures most of the major themes of life. Our protagonist Callie/Cal is immediately interesting to the reader as she narates her family history whilst foreshadowing her interesting and somewhat tragic gender identity. My only criticism is that the Father Mike scene at the end of the novel didn't seem to fit cleanly with the flow of the story at that point. I did laugh out loud while reading this scene however. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly A Must-Have Book! June 14 2005
By Winona
Format:Paperback
I deliberated for quite some time about buying this book. I read Eugenides "The Virgin Suicides" and, though enjoying it, found it lacked somewhat. However, I eventually took the plunge with Middlesex, and it could be possibly the best decision I ever made. I don't usually go for novels that "span generations", as I often find them to be plodding and rather tiresome. Middlesex certainly is not.
I was gripped from the first page and simply could not put it down. It is a lengthy tome but because you are captivated from the very start (with the fantastic opening line of "I was born twice...") and remain so until the very last word, it does not feel like an arduous journey through the pages.
Eugenides writes in such a way that you truly feel you are living through the generations, that you are experiencing the same smells, sights and feelings as the main characters. Take for example, the description of Lefty's job on the production line in the Ford factory. The rhythmic, repetitive prose conjures up so perfectly the mechanics of the production line, that you feel as though you are actually working on it. Trust me, you will feel it!
Middlesex is a marked departure from the almost-throwaway feel of The Virgin Suicides. Middlesex is a novel that will remain with you forever, more than worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. The story is great, the characterization is sublime...are you getting the impression I really enjoyed this book? Undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, novels around, but try it for yourself! Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Eugenides, but very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly A Must-Have Book! June 2 2005
Format:Hardcover
I deliberated for quite some time about buying this book. I read Eugenides "The Virgin Suicides" and, though enjoying it, found it lacked somewhat. However, I eventually took the plunge with Middlesex, and it could be possibly the best decision I ever made. I don't usually go for novels that "span generations", as I often find them to be plodding and rather tiresome. Middlesex certainly is not.
I was gripped from the first page and simply could not put it down. It is a lengthy tome but because you are captivated from the very start (with the fantastic opening line of "I was born twice...") and remain so until the very last word, it does not feel like an arduous journey through the pages.

Eugenides writes in such a way that you truly feel you are living through the generations, that you are experiencing the same smells, sights and feelings as the main characters. Take for example, the description of Lefty's job on the production line in the Ford factory. The rhythmic, repetitive prose conjures up so perfectly the mechanics of the production line, that you feel as though you are actually working on it. Trust me, you will feel it!
Middlesex is a marked departure from the almost-throwaway feel of The Virgin Suicides. Middlesex is a novel that will remain with you forever, more than worthy of its Pulitzer Prize. The story is great, the characterization is sublime...are you getting the impression I really enjoyed this book? Undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, novels around, but try it for yourself! Pick up a copy! Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Eugenides, but very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "THE LOSERS CLUB: Complete Restored Edition" by Richard Perez, an exceptional, highly entertaining little novel I can't stop thinking about.
Was this review helpful to you?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Amazing book!, you just have to read it!
Published 28 days ago by karla
4.0 out of 5 stars A DIFFERENT KIND OF BEING
"Some people inherit houses; others paintings or highly insured violin bows. Still others get a Japanese tansu or a famous name. Read more
Published 4 months ago by little lady blue
5.0 out of 5 stars nice book
5/5 book was used but it was like it came brand new! good condition better then what i had expected, order on time, everything is good ty.
Published 8 months ago by Bryan
3.0 out of 5 stars Book was in great shape
The book was in great shape and came quick. The only thing is I really just couldn't get into the book and quit about halfway through.
Published 11 months ago by elliemae79
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring
The language is somewhat difficult, but it gets clear and interesting as the story goes on (I'm sure you'll understand). I like multi-theme books like this. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Wil
2.0 out of 5 stars Middlesex
Was really looking forward to this read picked by a member of my bookclub. The subject matter really intrigued me and I had also not read any of Eugenide's work. Read more
Published on Jan. 13 2012 by Gail Cumberbatch
5.0 out of 5 stars Great service!
The service was amazing - the boook arrived in 5 days, the condition was as discribed. I have been long frustrated with the inflated costs of books in Canada - reading should be... Read more
Published on June 11 2011 by Mrs. Andrea S. Austin
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
This book was not at all what I expected! I was surprised by the family history in this book. I found the storylines of each generation to be equally fascinating and relevant. Read more
Published on July 5 2010 by Nikos
5.0 out of 5 stars My big, fat Greek family
Cal Stephanides traces his family history back to 1922, when his grandparents were young and living in Asia Minor. Read more
Published on Dec 29 2009 by Kona
3.0 out of 5 stars Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
Although Eugenides is an extremely talented descriptive writer, he needs work on plot structure. The first three quarters of the book seemed to be building up to a satisfying... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2008 by Matthew Shaw
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