family book club: middlesex

middlesex jeffrey eugenides

We met a few weekends ago to discuss our #familybookclub pick, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Kindle version here). We used Google hangouts, and it worked pretty well!

family book club video chat

It was so fun to see everyone and to get together from our homes all over the country. And it didn’t hurt that my adorable nephews jumped on to say hello. We were all glad we read Middlesex because it wasn’t something we would have picked up on our own, but I don’t think any of us will probably reach for it again. We classified it as a coming of age novel–for our narrator and many members of his family.

Coming of age

Cal begins his story with his grandparents all the way in Greece. Desdemona and Lefty are brother and sister while a war is raging around them and their own feelings for each other are raging inside. When they leave their burning city and get on a ship to America, they create a new life. Quite literally, in that they lie to everyone and to themselves by telling a story of how they met and fell in love. They became husband and wife on this trip, and they also became adults with an entirely new history. And in America, they begin their adult, married life. But it’s not as easy as they’d pretended it could be.

Milton and Tessie, the next generation and parents to Cal, are cousins. What starts as an exploration of their sexuality turns into a marriage and a family. And, likewise, Cal’s first experiences with sex help him find out who he really is.

History and events shaping lives

A lot of characters changed their lives as a result of world events. Desdemona and Lefty move to the U.S. because of a war in Greece. Milton and Tessie grew up in the U.S., but their history is also touched by war. Tessie sees the news reports every time she goes to the movies, and pictures Milton in each scene. This whole family’s fate is entwined with the events around them. And it was really interesting to see the history of Greece and different parts of the U.S. More than one of us stopped to look up more about the events we read about, like the burning of Smyrna and the race riots in Detroit.

Hiding–from self and the world

Both Desdemona and Callie pretended everything was fine when it most definitely wasn’t. They denied their troubles to their families. Desdemona pretended her family was “normal” and nothing to be worried about. Callie pretended her own development was “normal”–she went so far as to pretend to have a period. This granddaughter and grandmother mirrored each others’ suffering in secret.

And when Desdemona and Lefty came to the U.S., they didn’t really have a new history. They were hiding the truth and portraying a different life to the rest of the world. It took a toll on themselves and their marriage. And it was a piece in the puzzle that ultimately led to Cal’s struggles today.

Cal, after a harrowing doctor’s visit, realizes who he truly is. Cal denies the operation that would make him a woman, and he starts living his life as a man. I’d like to think Cal breaks the cycle of secrets and hiding that his family had created and starts living in the truth.

Middlesex has so many layers and so many more stories that I have barely been able to touch on. Have you read it, what did you think?!

(Also, we think Cal and Julie made it, but we’re a pretty optimistic bunch.)

Our next book is Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio (Kindle here). We are going to talk about in person on family vacation in a few weeks! Check it out and let us know what you think!

icy sparks by gwyn hyman rubio

(I bought these books on my own and am not being paid to write about them. But I am a part of the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you buy it through my links on Amazon, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it.) 


  1. Jill says:

    Middlesex is on our book club list and I am really looking forward to reading it. I skimmed your post so I avoided spoilers but thanks for sharing your thoughts about it! X

    1. rclnudson says:

      That’s awesome! I hope you like it!

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