“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 train-car 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 words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ”
These are my favorite lines in this book and choosing these lines was tough, that’s how good the book was. Middlesex is about gender identity but the beauty of it is, it is just not about that. It is about being Greek, being in (incestuous) love, being in America, and mostly about being human.
The plot pans three generations of Calliope Stephenides’ family of Greek origins beginning with the grandparents Lefty and Desdemona who escape Smyrna from Asia Minor and move to America and finding love in each other though they are siblings, followed by his parents Milton and Tessie and their life as immigrants in Detroit and concludes with Callie (now Cal’s) discovering his gender identity since he is born as an intersex due to a condition known as 5-alpha-reductase deficiency.
The novel has many autobiographical aspects but author Jeffery Eugenides is not intersex as the protagonist of the novel. He has cleverly used details from his own life to make the story seem real and it works wonders.
Of all the themes being dealt with in this book, the age-old debate between nature-nurture is most compelling. Callie born and raised as a girl struggling after being ‘transformed’ into a boy in his teens, expresses it well:
“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”
And finally it amidst all the chaos of family history, culture: born into and adapted, place and time; it is the search and discovering of the self that resonated the most with me. And often like Cal, I find myself too wondering:
“Can you see me? All of me? Probably not. No one ever really has.”
This is one book I am not going to forget for a long time.