40. Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)

41HHxQGKa3L._SL160_The Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Middlesex, came highly recommended and was a very interesting novel spanning 3 generations of a Greek family who had fled Turkey in 1922. It is narrated by Calliope/Cal, sharing the genetics and family relationships that led to and intersex existence due to a 5-alpha-reducatse deficiency syndrome.  The novel is influenced by Greek mythology and the story of Tiresias, who had lived as both a male and female.

“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.”

The 41 year old narrator, Cal, begins to share the tale of his life starting before his birth.  He narrates the intertwined lives of his grandparents who escaped the war and violence, fleeing their home overlooking Mount Olympus and ending up in Detroit, Michigan.  His grandparents lived with a secret which would be slowly exposed as Calliope became a teenager.  They passed along a recessive gene common in isolated communities and situations of inbreeding among families.

The second generation was represented Cal’s parents who also were also closely related.  They were very excited to have a son (Chapter 11) and daughter (Calliopie).   Their father Milton worked hard to make a living and support his family in a comfortable neighbourhood with his Hercules hot dog stands.  As Calliope grew into her teen years, she began to sense that she might be different.

The family members each struggled with their own demons and difficulties.  All 3 generations lived together in the family home through the the days when Detroit was a successful car-making town, days of prohibition and later the days of gender riots.  Through all these eras, a recessive, family secret lurked in the genetic profile of the youngest family member of the third generation.

Middlesex is a very unique and interesting combination of historical and contemporary fiction.  The author himself has a Greek background and grew up in the Gross Pointe area where this family resided .  He became interested in the topic after reading a book called Herculine Barbin and numerous websites confirm that the author has not written autobiographically and is not intersex himself.  It was difficult not to compare Middlesex to Annabel which described the life of a baby born with both genitals and raised as a boy in a remote, Newfoundland community. Annabel, written by Canadian author Kathleen Wilson is on the CBC’s list of 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian.  Both books cause the reader to reflect and consider the challenges of these protagonists living growing up with both sets of genitals in a judgemental and challenging world.

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