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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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Middlesex is a great big rambling family saga. Its central theme, on which author Eugenides plays a number of variations, is that of people who find themselves caught between different cultures. That is not to say it is a story of the exclusion of outsiders, it is a more positive tale of people creating their own cultural space between societal norms. In sympathy with this and like the later Marriage Plot, the novel is structured around a central pivot, a family party at which the unborn central character Calliope Stephanides is sexed by her grandmother. Balanced around this fulcrum are the story of Cal's parents and grandparents, and on the other side, of Cal's own development.

Two generations before Cal's birth, Lefty and Desdemona are ethnic Greeks ejected from their village by the invading forces of Kemal Ataturk. They flee to America where they find themselves not quite acceptable to WASP society but very much part of the white world from the African American viewpoint. The title of the book refers, on a factual level, to the family home bought by Cal's parents on the margins of desirable middle class suburbs. It is however, fundamentally about Cal herself, who unbeknownst to anyone until her mid teens, is a genetic hermaphrodite, raised as a girl, but crossing between the poles to live in later life as the man dictated by his Y chromosome. Disclosing Cal's nature is not a spoiler, as it is revealed in the very early pages of the novel.

She only comes to centre stage, carving out her own space on the gender spectrum,in the second half. The first half is much more about the immigrant, and specifically Greek immigrant, experience in America, finding a space on the ethnic spectrum, and gradually becoming more American with each generation.

Middlesex is a long book, something which has recently attracted criticism. However it is a book which carries its length well. It extends over more than eighty years, taking in the aftermath of the First World War, the Pacific conflict in World War 2, race riots in Detroit, the counter cultural sixties, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and mixes in incest, teenage sexual awakening, and family jealousies. This is a book which is long in the way that Dickens is long. Its intricate plotting rewards the little bit of effort needed to stay with it.

There is also some lovely writing in here. Three images, amongst many stick with me. A passage where the rhythm and structure of the prose echo the beat of a production line. The picture of a little girl riding her bike behind a tank on a mission to save her father from the middle of a race riot. The lanky teenage Cal all limbs and hair, looking like a member of the Ramones.

While this is a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent and engaging read, it does hit a few duff notes. Early on, the identity of a preacher for the Nation of Islam lacks credibility. Much later in the book, that lack of believability is also apparent in a philanthropic pornographer, although to be fair, his role in the story is probably more figurative than real. He seems to exist to throw a spotlight on a self aggrandising doctor whose treatment of Cal is as exploitative as that of the sex industry. Thirdly there is a strange final thread involving a kidnapping and ransom which seems oddly melodramatic and out of keeping with the rest of the novel.

That said, the finale of the book is highly satisfying. This is no post modern work with the reader left to make his or her own choices in an inconclusive conclusion. After a good old fashioned family saga, albeit with a massively unconventional family, Eugenides gives us a proper happy ending, leaving the reader with a fantastic final image.

This is an excellent, entertaining, ambitious and ultimately successful work.
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on 3 April 2017
Even though you know what is coming from the very beginning of reading the book it is nevertheless a shock as the girls are successful in committing the ultimate act.
The description of decay in the girls, the household and the community is so evocative.
A gripping story but probably not for those who have been affected by suicide in their own lives.
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on 25 July 2015
I came across Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex only recently although the book won the Pullitzer Prize more than ten years ago. It's an epic story covering three generations of a Greek/American family from the time they were forced out of rural occupied Turkey in 1922 until the narrator's completion of his family's story - and his own self-acceptance - around the start of this millenium. Whilst at one level, this is a typical american family drama, it is unusual on several other levels and with some very specific themes. The author integrates ancient Greek myth into the modern narrative; there are several 'growing-up' stories; there is tragedy and survival. But what sets this novel apart and makes it a great read for me, is its sensitive handling of taboo themes: incestuous relationships (not abuse) in rural families and its consequences; chromosomal rarities in family lineages; and hermaphroditism - its recognition, treatment and acceptance. This is a big book - more than 500 pages - yet rich and deeply rewarding on many levels.
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on 26 July 2015
This is, without a doubt, one of the most achingly beautiful books I have ever read. The prose was absolutely stunning (I have underlined countless sections); the descriptions were nothing short of magic and the author balances perfectly between comedy and tragedy. The whole novel felt tangibly real, as if I were reading the inner thoughts of the author himself. As cliched as it may sound, this novel really touched me and made me question where we come from and what exactly makes up who we are. Thought-provoking, devastating, and beautiful. I can't wait to read it again.
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on 10 October 2014
After reading The Virgin Suicides I was particularly keen to try more of Eugenides books and picked Middlesex without really reading much about it only that it had received a lot of critical acclaim. I felt the book was a little slow to get into, a lot of the historical background and starting so far back in his lineage, to begin with felt a little unnecessary however once you are further into the story many of the elements come back into play. As a topic I know very little about I was incredibly interested and enlightened (obviously it is non-fiction) again my only critique would be that after spending so much time going to so much detail in the previous generations of his history and his childhood it seemed like part of the story was very much left out when it came to his older years. However it may be that this was the point, the book was more about the journey than the actual end point. In all I would highly recommend this book, it will open your mind, expand your horizons along with a beautiful story told in Eugenides signature, almost haunting, writing style.
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on 27 April 2017
Amazing book! I love the writing style, the character concepts, and the story as a whole is just so great. Read it none stop. The last chapter and how it went is just what I wanted too, just good from start to finish! I could only wish it was longer but, then it wouldn't be the book I love.
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on 21 November 2015
I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is extremely well written, the characterisation is vivid and believable and the subject matter fascinating. It's about identity, both from a gender point of view but also a cultural and national viewpoint. The narrator Cal is an adult male, writing in the present but looking back at his family's Greek roots as third generation immigrants to America. Cal was born a girl but as she reaches puberty she gradually realises that she is not like her peers. It is written gently; her fate unrolls very gradually and we read it from a standpoint of knowing things about her that she initially does not know about herself. We therefore feel for her every step of the way. I was just sorry when it ended...
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on 6 July 2012
I found this book did need my full attention to read it, but loved the style of writing and how vivid and alive the language was. However, I felt like the book took too long to work up to what I considered to be the main story, being how the main character discovers she is a hermaphrodite and how she copes with this. As a result I felt this part of the story was rushed and the book needed to be a few hundred pages longer to explore this more. I did enjoy the beginning about the family history but felt this took over the emphasis of the book, yet still relevant to the story.
I enjoyed the book so much though that I feel upset it is finished and am going to struggle to decide what to read next.
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on 21 October 2012
A very unusual topic for a novel, beautifully and sympathetically told; not for nothing did Jeffrey Eugenides win the Pulitzer Prize for this book! It ranges over the lives of three generations of a family and reveals a guilty secret. A Greek tragi-comedy for the 21st Century, funny and poignant, erudite and very moving, Eugenides has crafted a novel of beauty and understanding which is never voyeuristic or titillating in any way. One takes to all the characters immediately, shares all their joys and sympathizes with them in their sorrows. I was sorry when I got to the last page - I wanted more! Always a good indication of a great story.
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on 16 May 2017
This is the story of the lives and suicides of the five Lisbon sisters, told through the memories of the boys who lived in their street who loved them and watched them from afar. Though the subject matter is sad, it wasn't a wholly depressing read. It was very well written - Eugenides has a masterful vocabulary and the setting is very immersive.
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