This is one of the strangest books I have ever read.
It tells the story of Calliope, a hermaphrodite (having the sex organs and characteristics of both male and female). But it doesn’t get to her (his?) story until half way through the book.
The first half of the book explores choices her grandparents and parents made, in their native country of Greece, which came to impact the lives of their children. Because of these choices, our heroine has a “recessive mutation on the fifth chromosome” which causes her sexual duplicity.
After Greece is invaded by the Turks, they come to America to begin a new life, thus showing us an immigration experience in great detail.
I liked the book for its fine writing. There is symbolism all over the place, in metaphors for Greek myths and literature. There is, believe it or not, humor on almost every page, as Eugenides dryly portrays America and her citizens in particular, the human race in general.
To me, it depicts huge transformation processes, not only from the main character’s progression from female to male, but from Greek to American, young to old, poor to middle class, single to married, innocence to knowledge.
When I teach reading in the classroom, the children and I make connections from text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world. Permit me to draw a few connections here.
Text-to-text: Great, I have none. This book reminds me of none other I’ve ever read. It’s so unusual.
Text-to-self: In reading the immigration experience of Calliope’s grandparents, I was immediately drawn into imagining my own grandparents. My maternal grandmother came from Germany, my maternal grandfather came from Holland. How exciting and terrifying it must have been for those who left what was familiar to make a new future for themselves. How foreign, we all are, really, to one another.
Text-to-world: Is it too much of a stretch to say that I feel Eugenides is in part implying that our world has become androgynous? The models are so thin they’ve lost their chests, have implants, and end up looking like boys with tits. Sort of. The meterosexuals are shaving themselves of all body hair and having manicures. Sometimes I feel our whole society is rather confused as to its gender and purpose. But, that may not be what he’s saying at all.
After I talk about it with these women, I’ll post a comment to mention what they thought about Middlesex. It says something that it won a prize.