“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.”
“Children learn to speak Male or Female the way they learn to speak English or French.”
Where do I begin with this book? This title is part of my top3 of my favorite books ever.
I remember browsing the shelves at my Virgin Megastore wondering what the heck I could read next. Please note that at that time, I wasn't fan of buying online and was then limited to the 6 racks of the lone shelf dedicated to english lit. So when you visit your bookstore on a weekly basis, at some point, there is nothing new to browse. And that's when the "Pulitzer Prize" sticker came into play and the "By the author of" too.
The cover did help too. This actually is my favorite cover, because it kind of sums of the book in a simple way.
The story of Middlesex is the story of Calliope. Well, it's the story of Calliope's family, and of how from Greece to the USA, from Smyrna to Grosse Pointe, history shaped Calliope. The history of her family, the history of her genes, the history of the world and the events of her generation.
Everything starts in 1922, when Lefty, Cal's grandfather, makes a living by selling silkworm that he harvest and sell with his sister Desdemona. They are living through the war between Greece and Turkey and after the great fire that decimate Smyrna, flee for the US. The thing, is that Lefty and Desdemona, they are more than brother and sister, they are also lover. And on the boat, amidst people they don't know and who don't know them, create a romance that ends in them being wed by the ship captain.
Once arriving in the USA, they go on to live with their cousin, Lina, a closeted lesbian who know about their secret. From there, they move to Detroit and soon are graced by a son, Milton and after that Zoe arrives. Lina, married to Jimmy, gives birth to Tessie.
Later on, Tessie and Milton get married. Chapter Eleven and Calliope. A boy and a girl. Wait, no, you mean, Desdemona and her spoon on Tessie's belly was wrong? The new baby is a girl? Not a boy?
Well ... as you can guess, it's a bit more complicated than that.
Generation of incest and interbredding in the family ended up in Calliope being born with a 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. So Calliope is a boy, born with female characteristics. Calliope is intersex. But that, no-one will now it until one day a doctor realise that young Calliope is a bit more than meet the eyes.
Her parents then choose to reasign Calliope her rightful sex. After all, she was raised a girl, a girl she'll be. After test and examinations, Calliope runs away, having discovered her parents plan. And assumes the fact that she is now Cal, a man. Hitchhiking the country and ending up joining a burlesque show, Cal tries to find out who he is amidst other 'freaks'. During a police raid, Cal is arrested and goes back home.
It's only after that coming back home, during a talk with Desdemona, that Cal discovers that his grandparents are siblings. And Desdomona, amidst the emotion, remarks that all those years before, she was right. The second child of Milton and Tessie is a boy.
Years later, Cal, now a diplomat in Berlin, meets Julie Kikuchi.
The author ends the epic story of Cal, with him opening up to someone that he likes and that doesn't seem to mind, that Cal is Cal, with all that it entails.
The power of this book is that it's a great book. With such a story to tell, it could have been an awful book to read, it could have really bad. But the author manages to do something great, he manages to walk the line and never falls. Ever. Even during the time when Cal runs away and enters the burlesque show, the author manages to keep everything on the line.
I've read this book so many time, I've recced this book so many time, I bought it three time 'cos I kept giving my copy away. It's that good.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
I know you’re only trying to do what’s best for me, but I don’t think anyone knows for sure what’s best. I love you and don’t want to be a problem, so I’ve decided to go away. I know you’ll say I’m not a problem, but I know I am. If you want to know why I’m doing this, you should ask Dr. Luce, who is a big liar! I am not a girl. I’m a boy. That’s what I found out today. So I’m going where no one knows me. Everyone in Grosse Pointe will talk when they find out.
Sorry I took your money, Dad, but I promise to pay you back someday, with interest.
Please don’t worry about me. I will be ALL RIGHT!
Despite it’s contents, I signed this declaration to my parents: “Callie.”
It was the last time I was ever their daughter.”