22.Aug.2009 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I was utterly mesmerized. I was so sad when the book has ended because I thought I would never find a book like this ever again — which was how I felt when I finished my top 2 books. So this book officially has crept onto my top 3 books ever (in no order).
Middlesex is an epic tale of multi-generational family originated from Greece who later on migrated to America. It spans from 1920s Greece to Detroit in the mid to late 20th century to contemporary Berlin. The omniscient narrator — possibly the most lovable most interesting in fiction novels — is Callie, a girl, who later grows into Cal, a man, as a result of incestuous marriage of her grandparents.
Though weaved with history and cultural information, the story couldn’t be more intimate. Jeffrey Eugenides has a way to make even the most minor character matters, as if you know their deepest secrets while nobody else does and you feel so much for them. He definitely has become one of my favorite authors. His writing is exceptionally good. I was surprised of how so so well written it was. The imagery was vivid, cinematic. At a few points I felt like I was watching a movie (often ala Persepolis).
Middlesex is a story of immigrants, family, and coming-of-age of an intersex person. The main character who has a double role as the omniscient narrator was a new technique to me. Often the narrator has to keep some distance from the main storyline. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. Cal tells us the intimate details of his grandparents’ secrets, his parents’ inner thoughts, and even her own birth:
“As sperm meets egg, I feel a jolt. There’s a loud sound, a sonic boom as my world cracks. I feel myself shift, already losing bits of my prenatal omniscience, tumbling toward the blank slate of personhood. … Again the sperm rams my capsule; and I realize I can’t put it off any longer. The lease on my terrific little apartment is finally up and I’m being evicted. So I raise one fist (male-typically) and begin to beat on the walls of my eggshell until it cracks. Then, slipperly as a yolk, I dive headfirst into the world.” ~ p211
The omniscient point of view is written perfectly. I have no idea how that could work, but it just does. The novel is funny, heartbreaking, unique, alive with pulses and blood running in its vein.
“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness”, “joy”, or “regret”. Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. 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 show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” 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 word to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.” ~ p217
I can’t imagine anyone not liking the book. It’s an absolute masterpiece, in originality and writing. Admittedly it is quite long, but it’s definitely a journey worth taking.
2002, 529 pp
Watch the ABC First Tuesday Book Club on Middlesex episode (August 2009, 8 mins 27 secs)
Why Cal’s brother is nicknamed Chapter Eleven
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.
I lost track after a while, happy to be home, weeping for my father, and thinking about what was next.
“No one to love: no love. No love: no babies. No babies: no one to love.” ~ p35
“We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back where you began.” ~ p68
“Pregnancy humbles the husbands. After an initial rush of male pride, they quickly recognized the minor role that nature had assigned them in the drama of reproduction, and quietly withdrew into a baffled reserve, catalysts to an explosion they couldn’t explain.” ~ p109
“… the tiniest bit of truth made credible the greatest lies.” ~ p418
2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
New York Times Editors’ Choice – Best Book of 2002
Nominated for 2003 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction
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