Books From My Closet

"I Love Books The Way Some Girls Love Shoes"

Middlesex, Book 1

This is the first post for my new book choice “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides and I have to admit, I have been thinking about what I was going to write all day today. Just to be clear, this book while it is one whole book, is separated into four books or sections if you will, so going forward you should expect four blog posts, but if I have a thought in between I will definitely share it here.

“Middlesex” so far has been somewhat complicated to understand at times, words in both English and Greek were used several times thus far to the point where I thought I would need to get online and look them up. I never did, I hate doing that, it takes me away from paying attention to the story. So I continued…

The first line in the story I think sums up the whole book, but what I found in the first 30 or so pages shocked and surprised me that I must have talked about it with everyone.

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy in an emergency room near Petoskey Michigan,” says the narrator of the story whose name is Calliope later shortened to Cal.

Cal is a hermaphrodite, which by the Wikipedia definition is a plant or animal that  has reproductive organs normally associated with both male or female. Okay, I knew that going into the book, that did not shock me, or surprise me, but rather grabbed my interest to continue reading.

What I didn’t expect came next, the book travels from the 1960s back to 1922 Greece during the Greco-Turkish War, which again according to Wikipedia, is also called the War in Asia Minor or the Greek campaign of the Turkish War of Independence or the Asia Minor Catastrophe, you get the point, it was a war. The war was fought between Greece and Turkish revolutionaries of the Turkish National Movement that would later establish the Republic of Turkey. From the book’s description it was devastating war that killed many innocent people and their families, left people hungry and without a home.

Now I could continue to bore you with history, but I won’t, simply because I want people follow with me and read this book for themselves and read about this tragedy for themselves.  This isn’t what shocked me either, it was sad and often times reminded me of the Holocaust, but I managed to get through this part.

In traveling back to 1922, the narrator tells the story of his paternal grandparents, particularly begining with his paternal grandmother Desdemona, prior to this he/she whatever, talks about his parents wanting to have a girl and how his grandmother Desdemona was never wrong in guessing the sex of the baby until he/she was born.

When the book finally gets to the time of his grandparents history, I didn’t realize what came next but I understood exactly why Cal was a hermaphrodite, his grandparents Desdemona and his grandfather who was also referred to as “Lefty” (why I don’t know) are brother and sister oh! and third cousins! It was about 11 p.m. on Monday when I had gotten to this part and I nearly threw the book across the room. Now, I have to admit it’s not the first time I’ve read of an author who takes such “taboo” topics (taboo is the only word I can think of right now) and opens up Pandora’s Box.

The author, Jeffrey Eugenidis

And this book won a Pulitzer Prize was accepted on to Oprah’s book club list, the whole thing, but you have to sometimes question where the author’s mind was, where did this man decide he was going to develop such a story without being thrown in jail for having what many would consider a very very sick mind. I think though, that many readers are so enveloped with the story they are able to separate the person from the story they have written, and either applaud their efforts and tell everyone about it or never admit to ever having reading it. This man was lucky.

After my initial shock on the topic, I realized I had two choices here, I could cancel reading this all together and choose another book, or simply remove the part of them being siblings and cousins and accept their love story. I chose to continue, because one cardinal rule I have developed is that no matter what I will continue reading, boring, sick or otherwise.  THIS WAS REALLY DIFFICULT. Because the two characters in the book didn’t forget and that was translated on to the pages a number of times in their discussions and their plans to get to America during a time when their country was under attack.

You watch these two people begin a life together both as husband and wife and as immigrants to the great “terra di animale” as my own grandmother in Italian likes to call America (Translation: The ground of animals) I made peace in the last day or so with the fact that these two people were incestuous and while I could never relate (thank God) I am fully aware that in small villages such as the one these two lived in, it is slim pickings,  but dear God I would never choose my own sibling.

I’ve heard stories of various very ethnic cultures where people married within their families, hell it was going on here in the United States during the earlier part of the 20th century and before, is  it acceptable or legal, I don’t think so, but it did happen.

“We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety of repetition; that to go forward you have to come back where you began,” Cal explains in the book.

In the story Cal explains that the gene in his/her family first appeared in his bloodline sometime around 1750, in the body of one Penelope Evangelatos, his great-grandmother to the ninth power, he says. This woman passed this gene on to her son who passed it on to his daughters, and so on and so on. Being a recessive gene, its expression would have been fitful. Am I losing you here, my dear follower? I hope not. I’m trying to write this as simple as possible, but nothing about this is simple. Sporadic heredity is what the geneticists called it, a trait that remains dormant for decades only to reappear when everyone has forgotten about it.

Now here I was thinking it was his grandparents fault, well it was in a way, but it wasn’t. They bred a normal son who bred normal children until Cal. You have to wonder too, how many of us are actually educated about hermaphrodites anyway? Did I know what it was, yeah, but not enough to know the reactions the person would have to deal with.

The only heartwarming thing that came to mind during my reading the first book was the love these two people had when they decided to leaving difficult times and come to a new country, being a first generation Italian along with my maternal grandparents coming from Italy, I fully understand the sacrifices they made to leave the only home they have ever known to start a new life.

If you look around today, so many cultures are mixed, my co-worker once said in the future it will be hard to find a family of one nationality, and that is totally true. We are a mixed of cultures here, we are a mix of people wanting to start new and live what the America has branded as the “American Dream”.

I know there are major parts in Book 1 I have missed, but they are also parts that I have yet to fully understand. Well, I think I’ve said enough tonight, I didn’t know where I would go with this or what direction this would take, but I hope you pick up this book and follow along! Until next time!

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