Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Americana Series

Title: Middlesex,
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002
Publisher: Picador (PB, 529 pages)
Price: (Please check for prices of different editions)

(This review was sent in by Ms Rain Che Bian, another book fiend -- the first time we met we talked for 2 hours non-stop about books, and would have gone on for another two if we hadn't been diverted by Gerard.)

“According to an ancient Chinese legend, one day in the year 2640 a.c., Princess Si Ling-Chi was sitting under a mulberry tree when a silkworm cocoon fell into her teacup.  When she tried to remove it, she noticed that the cocoon had begun to unravel in the hot liquid.” Thus begins one of the first chapters of Middlesex. Jeffrey Eugenides skillfully unravels the cocoon of a family saga and flavors the story with the extraordinary and occasionally, the magical.

From a brother and sister escaping war in their home country with an incestuous marriage, to young Calliope’s pubescent struggle with her sexual identity, this is a story that traverses continents and social taboos. The ambitious book is literary without being pedantic, witty without being cynical. It is a coming of age story that travels beyond the inner journey of self-discovery. Immensely entertaining to read, Middlesex’s endearing ensemble of characters navigate gender identity issues, immigrant life in America and racial politics against the sweeping backdrop of history: the Greco-Turkish War, the 1967 Detroit Riot, desegregation, the Nation of Islam, etc.

The book is not bogged down by the weight of its rich history and multilayered context. The narrative structure builds suspense while the language provides a constant feast of comic relief. Middlesex does not engage so much with the metaphorical and metaphysical as does One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) or dwell on the passionate and emotional as does The House of Spirits (Isabel Allende), but it will keep you tugging at the threads of the cocoon.

Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize and Jeffrey Eugenides has just come out with a new book, The Marriage Plot, available in most KL bookstores. Middlesex is currently out of print in Malaysian bookstores, but may be purchased via A copy of Middlesex is also available for loan at the Lincoln Corner at KL Library, on 1 Jalan Raja. (Membership at KL Library costs RM16/year.)

The Lincoln Corner collection is constantly refurbished, please send any recommendations for new acquisition (fiction or non-fiction) to