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Middlesex [Paperback]

Jeffrey Eugenides
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 May 2003
'I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license records my first name simply as Cal.' So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Point, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, "Middlesex" is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (3 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747561621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747561620
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 163,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeffrey Eugenides -- winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Middlesex -- was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1960. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993, and has since been translated into fifteen languages and made into a major motion picture. His second novel, Middlesex, was an international bestseller. Jeffrey Eugenides is the recipient of many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and The National Foundation for the Arts, a Whiting Writers' Award, and the Harold D. Vursell Award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been a Fellow of the Berliner Künstlerprogramm of the DAAD and of the American Academy in Berlin. Jeffrey Eugenides lives in Berlin.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Middlesex is a significantly more ambitious and much odder novel than Jeffrey Eugenides' resonant debut, The Virgin Suicides (on DVD), which was a bittersweet paean to adolescent love. This is a sprawling family saga, bursting with life, which spans three generations and crosses several continents. At its core, however, is another unorthodox but exquisite coming-of-age story.

The book's wily narrator and central character, Calliope Stephanides (named after the muse of epic poetry) is a hermaphrodite raised as a girl who comes to realise she is happier as a boy and is now living as a man in contemporary Berlin. Cal's tale begins, appropriately enough, in Greece (or more precisely Asia Minor)--an Aegean Strasbourg whose sovereignty is claimed by Greece and Turkey. In 1922 brother and sister Lefty and Desdemona Stephanides escaped their war-torn homeland and arrived, as man and wife, in Detroit, America. It is this coupling that ultimately begets their grandchild Calliope and her ambiguous sexuality, as she, or rather by then he, sanguinely notes:

Some people inherit houses; others painting or highly insured violin bows. Still others get Japanese tansu or a famous name. I got a recessive gene on fifth chromosome and some very rare family jewels indeed.
As Cal recounts the experiences of the Stephanides clan in their new land--from the Depression to Nixon--he unfurls his own symbiotic odyssey to a new sex. Cal's narrative voice is arch, humorous and self aware, continually drawing attention to its authorial sleights of hand, but never exasperating. This is big, brainy novel--The Oracle of Delphi puts in an unlikely appearance in the middle of a teenage tryst--but one full of compassion. Eugenides' astonishingly rich story persistently engages the heart as well as the mind. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Nine years in the writing and worth the wait." -- Elle, October 2002

"This is a truly extraordinary novel based around one brilliantly drawn character." -- Red, October 2002

"a warm and beautifully written novel that illuminates the part of the human soul that even biology cannot reach." -- Sunday Times, October 6th 2002

"one of the best American novels in years. ... a book of wonders and surprises." -- Books Quarterly, September 2002

'A transatlantic epic ... Middlesex isn't just a respectable sophomore effort; it's a towering achievement' -- Los Angeles Times

'Expansive and radiantly generous ... a colossal act of curiosity, of imagination and of love' -- New York Times

'The best American novel since The Corrections ... exuberant, ambitious, deeply compassionate and wildly funny' -- GQ

'This is a truly original and compelling novel, by turns sad, funny and moving' -- Daily Mail

'This year's most sumptuously enjoyable book ... superb' -- Sunday Times Books of the Year

‘Middlesex is a vibrant and rewarding read, … This is an extravagant and thoroughly absorbing story.’ -- Olivia Glazebrook, Telegraph

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathless with wonder 15 Oct 2002
By A Customer
It is difficult to praise this book too much. Its ambition is obvious from its length and its multiple themes, the Greek diaspora, the American Dream and its racial divide, hermaphroditism, the sexual revolution, evolutionary biology....However, what I would not have thought possible was that this ambition be realised with such deftness of touch. There is not a dud paragraph in its 500-odd pages, and I imagine that my problem with the odd sentence was more to do with my lack of familiarity with the American idiom than with any failing on the part of the author. But these hiccups, rather than discouraging me, only made me more eager to to see what followed. At the end I was breathless with wonder. Would I read a better novel? Do we have to wait 9 years for his next?
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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic saga. 23 Mar 2004
This is one of those few novels that had me enchanted from the first page, and I didn't put it down untill the last.
I initially bought it on a whim, as it was on offer and the write ups were good for it. However it has cemented it's place as one of my favourite books to be released in recent times.
Middlesex is basically an epic family saga, covering three generations of the Greek Stephanides family as they emigrate from their homeland to America. Historically accurate as the story unfolds around the social backgrounds of the changing eras the reader is consumed in the realism of the novel - this could easily be a real Greek-American family. The greek connection is kept firmly within the book as the narrartor, Cal, recounts lesser known Greek myths in connection with her own story. This leads on to an unusual device by Eugenides to seperate the story further from typical family saga's - Cal is a hermaphrodite.
This condition does not override the novel, in fact it takes a backseat for the vast majority of it until the end. However, the research which Eugenides has done into this and the other subjects touched by the book is clearly astounding as his accuracy in his portrayal is astonishing.
The character development is superb - each character over the three generations develops a unique personality encouraging and coaxing readers to fall in love with them. You will. The emotions of each character seems to jump off the page and take a place in your heart.
Far from just being based around the family house the novel is also packed with its share of action - riots & a car chase are amongst these.
Eugenides description of this epic novel is beautifully vivid and weaves an enchanting image of the lives and inhabitats of his characters. It is cinematic in everything but format.
I've been struggling to think of a negative to say about the book before I finish my review but there really aren't any. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moments of storytelling magic 11 Jan 2010
This is the very rich tale of Calliope/Cal Stephanides a child born with both male and female genitalia and the struggle for acceptance, identity and understanding that it brings. It is interestingly written in the way that we go back two generations to see the chain of events that lead to the gene which causes the condition.

As others have said, this is two stories in one. One is the family back story, and the second part is Cal`s story. The first fairly lengthy part tells her grandparents story from Smyra to the USA. In the USA they have a child, Cal's father, who subsequently marries Cal's mother and they start a family - thus Cal is born. The second part is narrated by Cal and charts the effects of puberty. The struggles that time of life brings are amplified by the urges Cal has to deny and hide - urges Cal doesn't understand - through to diagnosis; Cal's search for identity; struggle to make decisions about the future, and present life.

The grandparent's story for me is some of the best in the book. It's well told, I enjoyed the history lesson that accompanied it, and thought it went well with the brilliant opening. However, after this point it starts to get a bit boring: there are family businesses, extended family sub-plots, and cultural contexts to wade through - some of which I feel didn't add much and could have been significantly edited.

The story picks up again after Cal is born and begins give a personal account of life and the struggles endured. I think there was so much unrealised potential in this part that it's a real shame. Like others I was left wanting more and thinking that the balance between the past and present was sorely misjudged.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb read 16 Jan 2006
Yes, I agree with the other reviews: this is a superb book. It has many laudable features: the prose is clean and crisp; some of the early stories are absolutely captivating; and the narrator is just a darling. Having said so much, I must also admit that the second half of the novel is quite disappointing. The story seems to meander into a series of implausible unsubstantiated episodes (a la Paul Auster), and I don’t think that Eugenides is able to quite capture, with any real sense of emotional satisfaction, the turmoil that Calliope would no doubt be under in having to navigate through the miasma of ambiguous sexuality. But, overall, this is still a remarkable book, and one that I think will endure, if only for the portrayal Calliope’s grandparents’ romance. Please read it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written
Fascinating subject dealt with in a sympathetic way. Enjoyed the way the story covered 3 generations. Kept me gripped throughout.
Published 1 day ago by Mr. Christopher Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful story
This is the second time I've read this book. Loved it even more this time. Couple of book group members found the themes uninteresting but I found both the Greek history and the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Susan Amos
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual book
If you want to try something a bit different, give it a go. Particularly enjoyed the first part of the novel.
Published 1 month ago by SuziQ
5.0 out of 5 stars What a read!
This book was chosen for our book club. It was a real curve ball but utterly fascinating.
A brilliant read and one deserved of its award. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs E J Bowen
2.0 out of 5 stars Was disappointed
I heard so many good things about this book and love what I read in the summary... Calliope discovers at 14 years old that she's a hermaphrodite. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Laura82
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 3 months ago by little lady blue
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, intriguing, hits a wide audience
Brilliant. A really enjoyable journey through history and geography and social culture, following the journey of a girl who discovers she's a hermaphrodite.
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. CE Reid
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Totally amazing story, written and read beautifully, Very long but so worth it. I found myself wanting more, highly recommend.
Published 4 months ago by Debbie Parris
5.0 out of 5 stars My view of Middlesex
Started by thinking this was just going to be another book about the convergence of Greek and American cultures symbolized by a hermaphrodite main character, but it is so much... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Pat
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most thought-provoking and enthralling books I have ever...
Eugenides manages to capture the spirit of Cal by taking us back to her / his grandparents' courtship, her parents' teenage years and subsequent marriage and children and then her... Read more
Published 4 months ago by sburns
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