torstai 24. maaliskuuta 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex

Middlesex tells the family and personal history of an intersexual man, Cal. His grandparents moved from Bursa (situated in modern-day Turkey) to the USA, and he has been raised as a Greek-American. The story has different time levels, the level of Cal in Europe, dating a pretty girl, and the story he tells about his grandparents, his parents and himself. The novel has one, first person narrator, Cal, but when he acts as a narrator he seems to either take liberties on imagining things or he has some of the powers of an all-knowing narrator. He describes the feelings and thoughts of many other people, and there is no "realistic" explanation on how he would know these things.

I was surprised on how much the story is about the previous generations, Desdemona and Lefty especially. They are sister and brother, who have to move to the USA because of the Turkish invasion of their home area. Their relationship is from the beginning of the book described as erotic; they try to suppress their feelings, but when they have to start life all over, it gives them the chance to become a couple and marry. This is crucial for the story of Cal, because the gene that makes him intersexual only lives on because of the incest. The story of Lefty and Desdemona is a story of immigration, religion, the depression and the life of one minority in the US.

The first part of the story left a strong feeling that silkworm eggs are a motif in the story. They represent the old life for Desdemona, a life where she was valued, but they might also be interpreted to represent the old and new life of Cal; he is brought up as a girl, but after discovering his intersexuality he wants to live as a boy and a man. He is much more valued in his new life, by himself and by others.

After telling the story of his grandparents, Cal moves fast through the story of his parents, and then to his own childhood. This part of the novel felt much less like a fairy tale, it was clearly personal and situated in the 20th century. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most; reading about the personal experiences of the narrator, about the process of growing up and the role of gender and gender identity in his life.

All in all, the novel was very enjoyable, easy to read, easy to get lost in. I'm not sure how I feel about the decision to tell the stories of two different generations in the same novel; on one hand it gives Cal's character depth any other narrative solution might not have given, on the other it leaves the reader to deal with the obvious contrast of the two worlds.

GLBT Challenge: The novel is the first one I have read in which the protagonist is intersexual. The book dealt more with the history of his family than how he discovered his gender identity, but it still managed to tell his personal story well.