Discover more from Don't Call Me Ishmael
A book review on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
I just reread Middlesex after 6 years. Given this is a reread of a 500+ page book, you can probably guess that I love this book.
I first read Middlesex when I was 22 and living in Greece for 2 months. I remember reading the book on the stairs of my neighborhood in Athens — it was one of the few paper books I carried around with me in my 40L backpack on 1-year trip around the world.
The book is written from the perspective of Cal/Calliope, who narrates the story of how her family’s history and decisions led to a mutated gene, and the dramatic effects this gene has on her life. The book is written like a memoir, yet Cal also acts as an all knowing God who is aware of the motivations and actions of all their family members. The story is a multigenerational epic that is empathetic, complex, and hilarious. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
When I first read this book, Greece was inundated by Syrian refugees. Desdemona’s and Lefty’s, Cal’s grandparents, flight from Smyrna to America has parallels to the events real people were experiencing around me. This was a book I was able to escape into, yet it made me even more grounded in my life in Greece because the brilliant writing of Jeffrey Eugenides gave me even more empathy for refugees with no choice but to search for a new home.
This book brilliantly captures the immigrant experience: first, second, and third generations. I’m the daughter of an immigrant, and the feelings of isolation from the culture you “belong” to and a simultaneous love for America, despite it’s politics, feel like my own experiences.
Eugenides writes America so well, the good and the bad, the racist and the transformative. The book has both physical and historical scope. As a reader, you get to learn about the challenge of finding work in Detroit; you read about a genocide, the Nation of Islam, the Detroit riots, and a Cal’s coming of age story.
The writing is beautiful. It can be so on the nose and blunt but then their are artistic lines like “Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into mind.” And “The mind self-edits. The mind airbrushes. It's a different thing to be inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From inside there is no comparison.” But then he’ll make you laugh with clever plot, sassy characters, and witty one liners.
Jeffery Eugenides is not intersex himself but he writes from the perspective of Cal, an intersex narrator. Every single character in the novel is detailed and vivid, except maybe Cal’s brother Chapter Eleven who is generally unlikeable. As a reader you understand the characters’ motivations and empathize with them. Eugenides is a masterful writer. I think this book is amazing.
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Whales Against the Pequod (WAP):
5/5 Whales — A Whale of a Novel