Jul 30th, 2012 by Lisa
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
|The narrator in Jeffery Eugenides’ Middlesex is Cal Stephanides, who “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.” Cal’s story takes us back to 1922 where we meet his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, living on Mount Olympus in Asia Minor, to Detroit where his parents, Milton and Tessa, fell in love. The union of these two couples, and generations before them, led Cal to receive a recessive gene on his fifth chromosome and “some very rare family jewels indeed.” Cal then describes his life at the time of conception, in the womb, as a young girl named Calliope, then his transformation to his life as a man named Cal living in Berlin. Trust me, it is a story like none you have read before.|
Book Club Ideas
Draped over the awesome cover of Middlesex is a rope crown, which Desdemona wore when she married her husband, Lefty. What would complete this picture is a clarinet, which Milton used to seduce Tessa. It is the joining of these 2 couples that led to Calliope/Cal.
Cal educates us about the union of the sperm and egg that led to his genetic makeup. Eggs are again mentioned in the story as part of the celebration of Greek Easter. “Red eggs fill bowls on the dining room table. They hang from string pouches over doorways. They crowd the mantle and are baked into loaves of cruciform tsoureki.” (page 15) The skins of 12 yellow onion are used to dye these eggs red(ish), a technique I learned from entertainingbythebay.com.
Cal’s grandmother had a silkworm cocoonery high on the slope of Mount Olympus and the silkworm makes its reappearance throughout the novel. You could decorate with a silk tablecloth for your book club party and complete the look with Greek-inspired decorations.
Cal’s grandfather, Lefty, had a collection of rebetika records. Rebetika is urban Greek folk music based primarily on traditional Greek or Anatolian dance rhythms.
Book Club Menu
Desdemona would pack Lefty a lunch of feta, olives and bread (page 93) which inspired this Feta and Olive Dip served with pita chips.
While Lefty worked, Desdemona filled her time cooking. She made pastitsio, moussaka and galactoboureko (page 98). Moussaka is an eggplant dish with layers of meat and béchamel sauce. Galactoboureko is made with a semolina-based custard and phyllo. The recipe that really caught my eye was Pastitsio, a baked meat and pasta dish.
Cal called his family “industrialists of spanakopita and grilled cheese sandwiches, technocrats of rice pudding.” This Rice Pudding has a touch of lemon zest, giving it a refreshing flavor.
Cal’s father started a fast food chain called Hercules Hot Dogs, based on a hot dog cooking technique developed by Cal’s brother when he didn’t want to wait for a pot of water to boil. He made the hot dogs in a frying pan and then experimented by making notches here and slits there to make curious shapes. I tried my hand at making different shaped hot dogs, but unfortunately, nothing spectacular happened. The hot dogs at Hercules Hot Dogs were made with chili sauce and onions (Coney Island style), but I decided to try my hand at making a Greek Hot Dog with tzatziki sauce, feta and olives.
Click here for more Greek recipes from Buttery Books.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 3.86 stars (235,408 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.3 stars (1001 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 4.13 stars (380 ratings)|
|My Rating: 4 stars. This is not like any book I have read before. It is both humorous and tragic with a cast of quirky characters. I enjoyed Cal as the narrator and the asides he injects throughout the novel.|
See more discussion questions at Macmillan.com
- Occasionally, Cal interrupts his own narrative, calling attention to himself and the artifice inherent in his story. What purpose do these interruptions serve? Is Cal a reliable narrator?
- How does Cal’s experience reflect on the “nature vs. nurture” debate about gender identity?
- Who is Johnny Zizmo? How does he influence the course of events in the novel?
- What is Dr. Luce’s role in the novel? Would you describe him as a villain?
- Calliope is the name the classical Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry. What elements of Greek mythology figure in Cal’s story? Is this novel meant to be a new myth?
- How is Cal’s experience living within two genders similar to the immigrant experience of living within two cultures? How is it different?
- Middlesex is set against the backdrop of several historical events: the war between Greece and Turkey, the rise of the Nation of Islam, World War II, and the Detroit riots. How does history shape the lives of the characters in the novel?
- What does America represent for Desdemona? For Milton? For Cal? To what extent do you think these characters’ different visions of America correspond to their status as first-, second-, and third-generation Greek Americans?
- What role does race play in the novel? How do the Detroit riots of 1967 affect the Stephanides family and Cal, specifically?
- Describe Middlesex. Does the house have a symbolic function in the novel?
Purchase Middlesex at your favorite bookseller
|Jeffrey Eugenides grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and attended Brown and Stanford Universities. His novel Middlesex was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Ambassador Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, France’s Prix Medicis, and the Lambda Literary Award. It was also selected for Oprah’s Book Club. Eugenides’ first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film by Sofia Coppola. He is on the faculty of Princeton University, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. From Macmillan.com|
Other Works by Author
|Click here for book club party ideas for The Marriage Plot|
Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
This one little sentence carries so much weight in this novel and I love the use of a scientific term:
“Here’s where my story splits, divides, undergoes meiosis.” (page 217)
Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Middlesex? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.
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