Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex


Eugenides, J. (2002). Middlesex. New York: Picador. 9780312422158

I actually read this book in Summer 2007 whilst between semesters in grad school. It was Oprah’s pick at the time and I read it at warp speed. Unfortunately, I never reviewed the book. Seeing a copy of Middlesex for sale by the Friends of Freeman (HCPL), I bought it. I took a more leisurely pace began rereading it after Christmas 2010.

Cal Stephanides, a forty-one year old who identifies himself as a man, climbs his gnarly family tree. He possesses a recessive gene, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, which made him appear female at the time of his birth. Believing him to be a girl, his parents named their “daughter” Calliope and called her “Callie”. After learning about the syndrome as an adolescent, Calliope changes his name to the masculine name, Cal. Taking on his Greek-American genealogy, Cal tells the story of a dirty little secret of his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, which shapes Calliope into Cal.

Upon hearing Oprah selected a book about hermaphrodite, I didn’t imagine myself reading this book. Yet, summer doldrums beset me and I stayed up several nights in a row reading Middlesex. The language Eugenides implements relates this story in a beautifully visual way. He crammed so much between the covers. Throughout, I learned more of the Smyrna fire, Prohibition-Era Detroit, the Nation of Islam, and the Pleasant Valley of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Eugenides encapsulates much of the contemporary life of Cal in Foreign Service Berlin as well. I enjoyed the mysteries he creates in his brother Chapter Eleven and catalyst The Obscure Object. I laughed at Desdemona’s work for the Nation of Islam and Aunt Lina’s droll tones. Above all else, I considered the sex versus gender argument in a fresh light.

Four and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha & the Vandellas

Places: Mt. Olympus, Smyrna, Turkey, Greece, New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, Germany

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With Middlesex being The Detroit Novel, I must link the following Super Bowl Ad:

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Norman Itzkowitz & Enid A. Goldberg’s Genghis Khan : 13th-century Mongolian tyrant (A Wicked History)


Itzkowitz, N., & Goldberg, E. A. (2008). In Genghis Khan: 13th-century Mongolian tyrant. New York: Franklin Watts. 0531125963

When I searched online for a listing of “A Wicked History” Series, I discovered that the biography of Genghis Khan was one of the first. Disappointed that none of my local libraries had this one about Genghis Khan, I requested the item through interlibrary loan (ILL). Before reading this slim volume on the guy, I knew next to nothing about him – he was a scary man who still had the world talking, he left numerous descendants, and John Wayne, of all people, played Genghis Khan in a movie sans accent.

Genghis Khan was  born Temujin in the twelfth century on the harsh Mongolian Steppe. Here, many tribes duked it out constantly – fighting for survival and turf. His parents were the tough Yesugei and his kidnapped bride Hoelun. This was all but a dog eat dog world where the Mongols and others nomads of the treeless plain lived in yurts and eeked out an existence. When Yesugei died from a poisoned dish, Temujin and his family were left to fend for themselves. Where most perished, Temujin was scrappy and ornery enough to survive.

Temujin grew strong and conquered his world. His warriors maded up the best army and, with them, Temujin terrorized cities, raped and pillaged, rendered people homeless. He punished his enemies mercilessly.

However, Temujin became Genghis Khan (thought to mean “universal ruler”), a man also known for his loyalty and providence. He unified the clans and the tribes of the Steppe. Genghis Khan was even called religiously tolerant and he established a sort of pony express and even a written language.

Not much is certain about Genghis Khan; he permitted no one to paint his portrait and his grave site is unknown. A copy of The Secret History of the Mongols turned up in China in the 1880s.   This work depicts a son born in a bad situation, who pursued his own life ruthlessly.

Whether or not Genghis Khan was wicked seems to be an easy call for me. What do you think?

Three Out of Five Pearls

Quote:

The leaders of the Mongols said to the young Genghis Khan: We will make you khan . . . . And if we disobey your command, separate us from our families, from our ladies and wives. Separates us, and throw down our heads upon the ground! If we disobey you, exile us and throw us out into the wilderness.

– Excerpt from The History of the Life of Genghis Khan: The Secret History of the Mongols

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • alliance – an agreement to work together
  • ally – a person or country that gives support to another
  • andas – in Mongol culture, friends who proved the closeness of their bond by drinking each other’s blood
  • ballista – a weapon that worked like a giant crossbow; it shot arrows that could break through the walls of buildings
  • Buddhist – a person who practices Buddhism, a religion based on the teachings of Buddha and practiced mainly in eastern and central Asia
  • caravan – a group of people traveling together
  • civilized – highly developed and organized
  • clan – an extended family group
  • descendant – a person’s child, grandchild, or other such relative on into the future
  • empire – a group of countries or regions that have the same ruler
  • exile – a situation in which one is forced to stay away from one’s homeland
  • firelance – a spear-like weapon with a tube containing gunpowder
  • Genghis Khan – Mongol words meaning “universal ruler”; Mongol leaders gave Temujin this title in 1206
  • khan – a Mongol word meaning ruler or leader
  • Muslim – someone who follows the religion of Islam, a religion based on the teachings of Muhammad
  • nomadic – wandering from place to place
  • ruthless – cruel and without pity
  • sable – a small animal that looks like a weasel; its soft brown fur is very valuable
  • sacred – holy, deserving great respect
  • scribe – a person who copies documents by hand
  • shaman – a person who communicates with the spirit world to help tell the future, control events, or cure the sick
  • steppe – treeless plains found in Asia
  • sultan – an emperor or ruler of some Muslim countries
  • tribe – a group of people who share the same ancestors and customs
  • Yasa – the code of law created by Genghis Khan
  • yoke – a wooden frame placed around a person’s neck to hold him or her prisoner
  • yurt – a circular tent made of felt stretched over a light, portable frame of branches

Places: Mongolia, China, Persia, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia

For more on Genghis Khan, please check out the following sites: