“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.” – Jeffrey Eugenides
5 Pretzel Sticks – in honor of the Stephanides family limb
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is a sweeping family history; a family history based on a secret that, ultimately, affects the life of little Calliope. It is a book about transformation: brother and sister become husband and wife; natives become immigrants; the young become grandparents; and Calliope, eventually, becomes Cal.
This book is not about the English countryside. Apparently there was a lot of miscommunication about that on Goodreads. I mean, you should read it regardless, but just now it doesn’t look like the set of the Great British Baking Show.
I don’t want to get too spoilery, but I also feel like we’ve all had ample time to read this book. Published in 2001, Middlesex won the Pulitzer in 2003 and was chosen by Oprah for her book club in 2007. More importantly, it was chosen by my book club in 2019. We had our discussion about it a few weeks ago. So, let’s get into this beast of a book, shall we?
“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.”
This is where the book begins, but Cal’s story begins decades before in a small town in Asia Minor. It begins with his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty. These two lost their family, were refugees of war, and found themselves fleeing the only home they’d ever known to try to get a fresh start in America. You notice I said “family” and “home” because, in addition to being third cousins, Desdemona and Lefty were also brother and sister.
Look, we all know that, for a variety of reasons, people that closely related should never, not ever, get married and start a family. But that’s exactly what they did. Making an agreement before they set sail for America, the two played out a courtship that was, frankly, adorable, on the ship and got married before coming through Ellis Island. The author spends a lot of time telling us Des and Lefty’s story – their backstory, the atrocities they survived, their sweet interactions with each other – I think he does this because it would be easy to judge them harshly for what they’ve done. As you read it, though, you kind of get it.
So, the newlyweds begin their life in Detroit, living with their cousin Lina – the only person who knows their secret – and her truly bizarre husband Zizmo. Zizmo, y’all. I’m not going to give too much away because I think everyone should read this book. But trust, Zizmo is a trip. And thus begins the story of Calliope and Cal. Years before their birth, their story began. It’s a beautiful, sad, and sometimes hilarious story.
So, grab a copy. You can do so here.
You can also grab a copy of our first book, Fall: An Ermahgerd Merstery, right here. FOR FREE. We probably aren’t up for a Pulitzer or anything, but it’s a fun read.