Summary and book reviews of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides X
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2002, 544 pages
    Sep 2003, 544 pages

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Book Summary

To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

The Silver Spoon

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. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce's study, "Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites," published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you've seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That's me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.

My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I'm a former field hockey goalie, longstanding member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox liturgy, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Describing his own conception, Cal writes: "The timing of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour and you change the gene selection" (p. 11). Is Cal’s condition a result of chance or of fate? Which of these forces governs the world as Cal sees it?

  2. Middlesex begins just before Cal’s birth in 1960, then moves backward in time to 1922. Cal is born at the beginning of Part 3, about halfway through the novel. Why did the author choose to structure the story in this way? How does this movement backward and forward in time reflect the larger themes of the work?

  3. When Tessie and Milton decide to try to influence the sex of their baby, Desdemona disapproves. "God decides what ...
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    Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music

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Media Reviews

Book Magazine (4 ½ Stars)

Highly compressed, explosively sudden comparisons are Eugenides' forte. Some are charmingly written….Others have the force of poetry....When Eugenides deals not in metaphor but in historical detail, he imbues facts with the same piquancy as his imagination....A great-hearted novel.


Middlesex…concerns the turbulent awakening of sexual impulses and identity, and combines a gently ironic humor with an obsessive, shimmering nostalgia that the author traces with vivid intelligence and precision....The flagrantly talented Eugenides turns the fascinating, improbable story of hermaphrodite Calliope Stephanides…into a 500-plus-page saga that begins with Cal's forebears on the slopes of Mount Olympus and ends in a deeply felt moment of self-realization.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

With Middlesex, a mirror-house love poem to his Greek 'Family,' Jeffrey Eugenides proves he has literary muscle second to none.

Men's Journal

At some point this fall, at a cocktail party or in some similarly chatty setting, you will overhear people talking about the 'hermaphrodite novel' and pressing the book upon others with the fervor of evangelical missionaries. So here's your heads-up The title is Middlesex; the author is Jeffrey Eugenides; yes, it's that good; and yes, it's about a hermaphrodite....But Middlesex is about a hermaphrodite in the way that Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel is about a teenage boy....Middlesex was nine years in the writing, and it's easy to see why; a novel of chance, family, sex, surgery, and America, it contains multitudes.

Vanity Fair

Eugenides' gift is to take subject matter that could easily devolve into tabloid fodder and instead mine it for delightfully weird, dark-hued comedy and highly original plotting.

Houston Chronicle

Eugenides' generosity toward his characters is the hallmark of the novel.

Philadelphia City News

Middlesex is a gloriously ambitious, resonantly humane story about the inalienable human right to be oneself.

Detroit Free Press

At last Detroit has its great novel. What Dublin got from James Joyce—a sprawling, ambitious, loving, exasperated and playful chronicle of all its good and bad parts—Detroit has from native son Eugenides.

Denver Post

Eugenides writes a sweeping tale, incorporating the structure of the Greek myths into the angst-ridden world of teen sexual desire. He pulls together the strands of genocide, Prohibition bootlegging, race riots and middle-class striving into a romantic, cohesive novel.

W Magazine

A truly extraordinary yarn....In a worthy bid for Great American Noveldom, Eugenides covers the tremendous swath of 20th-century history, from the automobile assembly lines of 1920s Detroit to the formation of the Nation of Islam…from a Prohibition-era speakeasy to a private-school locker room in 1970s Grosse Pointe. This sort of greatest-hits Odyssey can easily get out of hand…but Eugenides pulls it off with dazzling artistry and a deceptively light-fingered style.

School Library Journal - Enoch Pratt Free Library

Adult/High School-Mostly, the novel remains a universal narrative of a girl who's happy to grow up but hates having to leave her old self behind. Readers will love watching the narrator go from Callie to Cal, and witnessing all of the life experiences that get her there.

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Eugenides maps out a territory where all kinds of love, memories and despairs engage readers and then evanesce....This fiction is a revelation of originality and vast invention.

The Christian Science Monitor

A novel of extraordinary flexibility, scope, and emotional depth.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Part Tristram Shandy, part Ishmael, part Holden Caulfield, Cal is a wonderfully engaging narrator.... A deeply affecting portrait of one family's tumultuous engagement with the American 20th century.


Daring and inventive....An epic....This feast of a novel is thrilling in the scope of its imagination and surprising in its tenderness.

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

Unprecedented, astounding....praiseworthy, prizeworthy.

The Washington Post Book World

He has simply gotten better and better.


Middlesex is anything but ordinary. It is 'out there' in the best sense—a wry, unpredictable and ultimately wise book....It is funny and poignant and mythical, and very hard to put down.

USA Today

This is a big book, so wildly imaginative that it borders on the bizarre, and yet so warm-hearted that it's hard to resist.

Entertainment Weekly (A-)

Bighearted....Middlesex is a novel of roots and rootlessness....all in pieces, as all big family stories are, bursting the boundaries of logic.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Beautifully written....Eugenides has an extraordinary sensitivity....This is one determinedly literary novel that should also appeal to a large, general audience.

Library Journal

Starred Review. From the beginning, the reader is brought into a world rich in culture and history, as Eugenides extends his plot into forbidden territories with unique grace....Once again, Eugenides proves that he is not only a unique voice in modern literature but also well versed in the nature of the human heart. Highly recommended.

The New York Times Book Review

Expansive and radiantly generous....Deliriously American.

Author Blurb Salman Rushdie
Middlesex…is a wonderfully rich, ambitious novel—it deserves to be a huge success.

Reader Reviews


Good to the last word!!!
Every january Our Martinis and Manuscripts, my book group, reads the Pulitzer-winning novel for the past year. Over the years we have had some winners and a few big time losers. Then came 2003 and WOW! This book is worth every page...our highest ...   Read More


Unexpectingly Good
I had to read this book for a class, and I was very surprised that it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the semester. It's about a hermaphrodite, but it's about so much more. I would highly recommend it, even to people who are turned off...   Read More


This book was wonderful. I hated it to end.

Not Given

I wondered about the Chapter Eleven name too. I remembered reading that "Cal" was written into a book. And his/her whole family (I would assume) was also written into the book. Chapter Eleven was a character that was weird and ...   Read More

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