Thursday, September 23, 2010

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book was WOW. This is an amazing coming of age story set in Detroit. It follows three generations of a Greek family who was just a little different than other 'traditional' families, but definitely had their fill of family drama and angst. The story is narrated by third generation family member Cal, formerly Calliope, who is the result of the 'close' ties within the family. It is a story of strength in adversity, and of personal discovery with a backdrop of turbulent Detroit as it goes through a Genesis of its own, from motor city to motown to the riots and finally to decrepitude. Cal's narration is witty and delves into the many layers of the family members he focuses upon, which includes for a large portion him/herself and all of the difficulties he faced in learning about who he was. The story moves at a good pace and is compelling throughout-there were no 'lag moments' for me. I can see why this book is on the 1001 books to read before you die list, and I look forward to reading more by Eugenides. What a wonderful author!

About the author: Jeffrey Kent Eugenides (born March 8, 1960) is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer. Eugenides has written two acclaimed novels, The Virgin Suicides (1993) and Middlesex (2002). Middlesex, written in 2002, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Ambassador Book Award. Eugenides currently teaches at Princeton University's Program in Creative Writing.

History time:
The book touches upon many important historical events in the background of the character's lives, but there were two that affected the characters the most-the burning of Smyrna in Greece, and the Detroit riots.

The Great Fire of Smyrna was a fire that destroyed much of the port city of Smyrna in September 1922. Eye-witness reports state that the fire began on 13 September 1922 and lasted for several days. It occurred four days after the Turkish forces regained control of the city on 9 September 1922; thus, effectively ending the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) in the field, more than three years after the Greek army had landed troops at Smyrna on 15 May 1919.

According to one witness, the Greek army withdrew troops one day ahead of the Turks' arrival, having had advanced warning. The city was completely destroyed, and thousands perished. Refugees topped 400,000.

The 1967 Detroit Riots began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig, on the corner of 12th and Clairmount streets on the city's Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in American history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in Army troops. The result was forty-three dead, 467 injured, over 7200 arrests, and more than 2000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was eclipsed only by the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Other Books to Consider:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, East of Eden by John Steinbeck


Roof Beam Reader said...

Great post - this is one of the few literary "masterpieces" of our generation, I think. It took me a while to get into the story, but by the end I was totally engulfed and blown away.

Natalie W said...

I have always wanted to read this one! I'm so glad I came across your post, it reminded me of it.
Natalie :0)

Perri said...

I love this book!

I read it about 4 years agi and still those vivid images traipse through my mind on occasion.

Love that flying car death scene!