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2018 archive > June Group Read Discussion: Middlesex

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message 1: by Sara (last edited Jun 01, 2018 05:01AM) (new)

Sara | 1508 comments Discussion is open for Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

*This can be a touchy subject for some people so please be respectful of everyone's opinions even if they are completely opposite of yours. At the same time please refrain from disparaging remarks about any select group of individuals. This is not the place for such debates. Thank you.

Please use spoiler tags if you are sharing any plot related surprises.

Posts should be exclusively about this book.

When you've finished, be sure to post in the June Challenge - I finished! thread.


message 2: by Mike (last edited Jun 01, 2018 12:03PM) (new)

Mike | 443 comments Week One: Introductions
1. Please introduce yourself.

I'm Mike from Indiana, USA. I am a Quality Control Manager at an adhesives factory, and before that I was an R&D Chemist. This is my third year doing the PS Challenge and was able to actually complete the first two years (barely).

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?

Same. I had never heard of it until it became the group read. I try to read all the Group Read selections unless I'd already read it.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?

None

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?

Like it so far. I'm about 6% in and it's pretty amusing. I like the writing style.


message 3: by Megan (new)

Megan (mghrt06) | 542 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.

I'm Megan. From Pittsburgh PA!

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?

Because it was the group read and the blurb sounded pretty good.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?

Never heard of them before this.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?

I haven't started yet because there are a couple people ahead of me at the library for it. but hopefully it comes to me soon!!


message 4: by Anne (new)

Anne Vivliohomme (annevivliohomme) Hi! *waves* I'm Anne and I'm from the Netherlands. This is my first time reading a book in a group discussion, so I'm not sure yet whether it's something for me, but I'm very curious what it's like!

I decided to read Middlesex, because it has been sitting on my shelf for waaaay too long. I am also interested in the LGBT part, because I love to read books with some diversity.

I have never heard of the author before and I haven't started the book yet.

I'm looking forward to the discussion!


message 5: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 186 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi I'm Rachel from New York City.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I read this for a book club back when it originally came out in 2002/3. I remember loving it but other than the general subject matter, couldn't recall any details so I figured this would be a good opportunity for a reread.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
Yes, I read The Marriage Plot which I enjoyed.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I've already finished it but I remember being hooked pretty quickly. I was immediately drawn to Desdemona as a character.


message 6: by Gerry (new)

Gerry Howley | 5 comments Hi everyone. I’m Gerry from Manchester, England. This is my first year doing the PS challenge and I’m focusing on keeping up with the monthly reading selections.

Like others, I’m reading Middlesex because it was on the list and the info I found about the book looked really interesting.

I haven’t read any other books by the author, but I was aware of the Virgin Suicides and enjoyed the film.

Initial impressions so far are really good. The book is funny in places and very rich in both characters and the history it covers. I’m about half way through.


message 7: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Brown My name is Jennifer and I live in Michigan, USA.

I decided to join this read a long since I have Middlesex sitting on my TBR shelf and haven’t gotten around to reading it.

I have not read any other books by this author and haven’t started the book yet.


message 8: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments 1. I'm Shirley from Minnesota.

2. The book has been sitting on my TBR shelf waiting for an opportunity for a group read and I don't really know anything about the book.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides? No.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?

I'm enjoying the unusual narrative and humor. His writing style reminds a little like John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. P.S.: I'm keeping my dictionary close by, how about you?


message 9: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi I'm Jess from London. This is my first year doing the PS challenge and I am enjoying diversifying my reading.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
It has been on my TBR for a few years so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to it. I love historical fiction and famly sagas so it seems right up my street.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
No but The Virgin Suicides is on my TBR too

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I've not started yet but I've loaded it onto my kindle homepage at it looks like my plan to read shorter books this year is going out the window!


message 10: by Gerry (new)

Gerry Howley | 5 comments Laura wrote: "Gerry wrote: "Hi everyone. I’m Gerry from Manchester, England. This is my first year doing the PS challenge and I’m focusing on keeping up with the monthly reading selections.

Like others, I’m re..."


Yes! Totally agree =D


message 11: by Dana (new)

Dana Cristiana (silvermoon1923) | 206 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.
Hello! I am Dana and I am from Galati, Romania! I am 22 and I love book clubs. I hope to participate more often.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
Because I noticed that the library in my town has it and this is such a great opportunity to discover new books and to also participate in this group. Plus, I've read the synopsis and I find it very interesting!

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
Honestly, I didn't knew Jeffrey has other books. If I'll like/love Middlesex, I will search his other books.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I haven't started this yet.


message 12: by Bianca (new)

Bianca (bjsreadingnook) | 11 comments Week One: Introductions

1. Please introduce yourself. Hi, I'm Bianca. From Detroit, Michigan USA. Hoping this year is the first year I actually finish the PS reading challenge.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex? I've had this on my tbr list for a while, I love the descriptive way Eugenides describes the scenery.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides? I've read the The Virgin Suicides years ago and enjoyed it

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression? I have not started it yet, but am looking forward to it.


message 13: by John (new)

John | 79 comments Laura wrote: "

1/6/18 Introductions
8/6/18 Discussion questions about Book One
15/6/18 Discussion question..."


Week One: Introductions

1. Please introduce yourself. Hello Everybody My name is John. I'm from Fort Wayne, IN. I'm a disabled stay at home dad, and I'm hoping this year (my second year doing the PS challenge) I'll be able to complete the challenge. I started way late in the year last year why i didn't get it finished.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex? Honestly, I chose it b/c it was the chosen book for this monthly challenge.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides? No I honestly have never heard of him before this challenge.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression? I have not started it yet but I plan to in the next couple days.

(P.S. Laura, as an American I got confused for a second on your dates. lol)


message 14: by Jan (new)

Jan Bu | 6 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi! I'm Jan, reading avidly in Los Angeles, CA.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
This has been in my radar for quite some time and have kept putting it off. I was excited to see that it would be one of the monthly group reads.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
This is my first!

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I have started reading and am enjoying it so far. He does a great job with character development and I'm really getting into it!

Hope everyone's enjoying this read :)


message 15: by Teri (last edited Jun 04, 2018 01:36PM) (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments Week One: Introductions

1. Please introduce yourself.

I'm Teri, an accounting tech from Utah (USA). I've been an avid reader my entire life. I've reviewed the previous challenges as they've come up, but only to see how many prompts I could fill with the books I had read that year. This is the first year I've been picking books specifically to fit prompts. It's been fun, even if I'm a little neurotic about it.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I've enjoyed doing the monthly challenges so far, so I'm reading this one even though I've already filled the prompt. This is also on a "Well-Read List" that I've been working on for several years.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
I haven't.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I'm only about 15 pages in, but it sure is intriguing so far. I like the writing and characters.


message 16: by Jess (last edited Jun 07, 2018 08:21AM) (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments Might as well jump on this now whilst it's in front of me. I'm going to try and not read ahead of the book we will be discussing so that later parts of the novel don't influence my answers to the questions.

I'm really enjoying the book so far.

1. Eugenides uses an unusual written style by allowing Calliope, his first-person narrator, to know the thoughts and feelings of other characters. What do you think about this written style?

I found this style strange at first but I like magical realism so I'm used to suspending my disbelief when it comes to narrative style. I think it is a good way to be able to tell a multiple perspectives story without it being epistolary which can be limited. For example, I read The Historian a few months ago which is epislorary and I found it stupid that he would include so much detail in a letter, this style makes more sense than that despite it needing said leap in logic.

2. Eugenides claims that the incest plot is biologically necessary for Calliope's 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome to be explained. Is 'Lefty' and Desdemona's romantic relationship necessary? What other purpose might it serve?

Weirdly, this relationship didn't make me squirm as much as I thought it would when I realised it was going there. I think it is quite realistic that an attraction could form when they're growing up in such a closed community with little access to other people (especially Desdemona) also that they would take their new life in America as a chance to pursue it. It will be interesting to see how their relationship compares to other relationships later in the novel.

3. Ask the group a question about Book One.

How does Desdemona and Lefty's story compare to other 'American Dream' stories or stories about immigration that you have read?

4. Respond to at least one other poster's question.

What were the most amusing parts of Book One for you?

I liked the bit where Tessie and Milton were trying to manipulate the sex of their child and that the whole family (including the local priest) knew about it and discussed it around the dinner table


message 17: by Sonali (new)

Sonali Ekka | 86 comments Week One: Introductions

1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I am Sonali from Mumbai, India. I am working as an EA to the CEO at a hospital here. I read a lot but this is the first time I'm taking a reading book challenge. I am taking 2 challenges simultaneously, the Popsugar challenge here on Goodreads and a local challenge organized by a newspaper in India. Hope to complete both.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I was intrigued by the prompt itself as I have never really read a fiction or non-fiction on LGBTQ+ before. I had no idea which book to read. And so, joining the June challenge was pretty natural.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
No, this is my first book by him. I admit, I hadn't even heard about him before.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
The beginning is interesting. It was so strange and amusing I instantly got hooked and want to know what happens next. The characters do sound interesting. Also, this is my first book about a modern Greek family so am also hoping to learn about their culture and lifestyles along with insights to the LGBTQ+ community.


message 18: by Teri (last edited Jun 08, 2018 03:06PM) (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments Week Two - Book One

1. Eugenides uses an unusual written style by allowing Calliope, his first-person narrator, to know the thoughts and feelings of other characters. What do you think about this written style?

While this isn't my favorite writing style, it can be useful for the sharing of information when the storyline would otherwise suffer. And the narration is quite entertaining, so that helps.

2. Eugenides claims that the incest plot is biologically necessary for Calliope's 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome to be explained. Is 'Lefty' and Desdemona's romantic relationship necessary? What other purpose might it serve?
Wow, I was surprised by this plot twist. It is a little disturbing to me, but I am willing to see it play out. And I'm grateful I'm not attracted to my brother. I do not know that it is necessary, but then again I don't understand genetics well enough either, so perhaps it is. No idea what other purpose it might serve, although it will would likely be simpler for characters who grew up so closely together to adjust to their new lives.

3. Ask the group a question about Book One.
Was anyone else prompted to research the demise of Smyrna, Greece? I was disturbed by the image of the USS Lawrence doing nothing to help those fleeing the fire and drowning in the harbor and had to research to see if that was true. It was.

4. Respond to at least one other poster's question.
What were the most amusing parts of Book One for you?
I thought Desdemona's matchmaking attempts were pretty funny.

How does Desdemona and Lefty's story compare to other 'American Dream' stories or stories about immigration that you have read?
Fairly similar in having something traumatic happen in your hometown/country that forces you to leave it and hoping to find a better life in America. I cannot imagine being forced from your homeland. Greed and lust for power by some have caused so many innocent people, throughout history, to make choices they shouldn't have to make.


message 19: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie | 23 comments Week One: Introductions

1. Please introduce yourself.


My name's Chrissie, from Western Australia. I work as an Agency Enrolled Nurse (specialising in mental health nursing). This is the third Popsugar challenge I've participated in - I didn't get to finish last years challenge, as life got in the way too much. So I'm hoping to finish 2018s!

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I've had this book in my TBR for a couple of years(!). Just figured it looked interesting when I bought it, figured I'd get round to reading it this year.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
Only "The Virgin Suicides". I enjoyed that.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I've only just started reading this today - am on page 6. The story starts strong, this should be an interesting read.

I'm off to play "catch up" - got two books to read before I can participate properly in the weekly questions!


Jen from Quebec :0) (muppetbaby99) | 47 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.

Hey all! I'm Jen and I am a high school teacher in Quebec, Canada. I teach English lit, Ethics, Media Studies, Art and whatever else they throw at me to suit the needs of our small Anglophone school. I am a minority here in Quebec- an English person in a larger French world. At this time, I am off work with illness and am VERY miserable about it, as teaching has been my one and only ambition since the age of 9....SO, I have made reading my new full time job and adore Goodreads + its people.


2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?

I actually read it as soon as it was published in paperback, years ago. I cannot remember exactly *what* pushed me to purchase this title, but I am very glad that I did. I really adore this novel, and every time I re-read it (I have read it 4 times) it reinforces my desire to travel to Greece someday!


3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?

Yes. I read The Virgin Suicides just prior to the release of the film version. I actually did NOT like that book, and have it on my Goodreads "Totally Overrated" list.
Sidenote: For sale: One (slightly used) copy of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides !!


4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?

This is hard to answer, being so familiar with the book at this point, but I do love the setting and the amazing amount of HISTORY the book covers. Things such as the Balkan Wars, the Sputnik space shuttle, WWI + WWII, Jazz musicians, science magazines, DNA testing and the capturing of Asia Minor are all mentioned....within the first 15 or so pages!
The sheer SCOPE of the novel is huge + the reader senses this immediately. I love history, I have a BA in history, and whenever I find a well written novel in which the author incorporates actual historical events with fantastic + accurate details, I am a happy reader. (Dang- I sure said the word 'history' too many times, eh?)

----Jen from Quebec :0)

(PS) That 1st sentence is also a doozy. It should be included on all those lists that you see, ranking the best opening sentences of novels. This book certainly has a great 'hook'. :0)


message 21: by Anne (new)

Anne Vivliohomme (annevivliohomme) Hi you guys! Sad news, it turned out that this week will be way more busy than expected so I won't be able to participate with this group discussion :( So much for my first discussion 😅 Anyways, I'll still be reading what y'all think of it and I'll be looking forward to hearing your opinions! So long!


message 22: by Sonali (new)

Sonali Ekka | 86 comments Week Two - Book One

1. Eugenides uses an unusual written style by allowing Calliope, his first-person narrator, to know the thoughts and feelings of other characters. What do you think about this written style?

I was familiar to this style of writing because I had once seen such narrative style in a movie (I don’t remember the name!). It’s interesting, and helps in flitting back and forth across timelines (Grandparents’ times to Cal’s time and vice versa).

2. Eugenides claims that the incest plot is biologically necessary for Calliope's 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome to be explained. Is 'Lefty' and Desdemona's romantic relationship necessary? What other purpose might it serve?

(view spoiler)

3. Ask the group a question about Book One.

Could you understand about 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome from Calliope’s descriptions or did you have to look up an external reference?

I was quite confused about what exactly was the condition? Was she a hermaphrodite? Was she born into the wrong gender? I had to look up Wikipedia to understand the condition.

4. Respond to at least one other poster's question.

What were the most amusing parts of Book One for you?

I like the part where Milton keeps suggesting various ways to ensure a baby girl, including Uncle Pete’s advice to fornicate at the “right time” and Milton asking Tessie to use a thermometer to measure her temperature to know when she starts ovulating. The entire fuss around ensuring a girl is born, and the bets the men made, was quite hilarious.


message 23: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments Week Two - Book One

1. Eugenides uses an unusual written style by allowing Calliope, his first-person narrator, to know the thoughts and feelings of other characters. What do you think about this written style?

After reading a few pages, the narrative style seemed vividly familiar. Looking over some Goodreads shelving lists for omniscient narrative, I wasn’t surprised that The Book Thief was listed.

Too soon to know for sure if Calliope’s narration is as effective or important as Death’s role was in creating a memorable character’s voice. “Unwind” is also written with an omniscient narrative style and my memorable recollections focus more on the plot and individual characters, rather than the strength of the narrative style.


2. Eugenides claims that the incest plot is biologically necessary for Calliope's 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome to be explained. Is 'Lefty' and Desdemona's romantic relationship necessary? What other purpose might it serve?

Lefty and Desdemona’s relationship offers an understandable explanation for the abnormal genetics instead of trying to explain the science behind it and leave the reader lost in the translation.

3. Describe one scene or custom that you researched after learning about it in Book One.

I watched a couple of videos on Youtube of the Dance of Isaiah performed in a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony which symbolizes that the couple will follow the Word of God as they start a new life while the circular dance represents the eternity of a marriage, there is neither a beginning nor an end.

4. How does Desdemona and Lefty's story compare to other 'American Dream' stories or stories about immigration that you have read?

I’ve read more generational memoirs than I have fiction. I read The Good American by Alex George, which also had one similarity to our group read: a relationship was kept secret through more than one generation.


message 24: by John (new)

John | 79 comments So far i'm really enjoying the story I'm only a quarter of the way through it too.

Week Two - Book One

1. Eugenides uses an unusual written style by allowing Calliope, his first-person narrator, to know the thoughts and feelings of other characters. What do you think about this written style?

It's the first time i've encountered a writing style like this but I actually like it. It's playing out kinda like a movie for me. Where Calliope is the unknown voice narrating the past as well as her first person present.

2. Eugenides claims that the incest plot is biologically necessary for Calliope's 5-Alpha-reductase deficiency syndrome to be explained. Is 'Lefty' and Desdemona's romantic relationship necessary? What other purpose might it serve?

I'm not thrown off by Lefty's and Desdemon's relationship, I thought I had seen it going that way but wasn't sure till Lefty himself figured it out. I'm not familiar with Calliope's condition enough to know if their relationship is necessary for the syndrome, though I do know that genetic markers can be triggered by inbreeding so that may be what it's there for.

3. Ask the group a question about Book One.

In book one we learn of Desdemona's "old world" way of finding out the sex of the baby. Do you know of any other interesting beliefs that some people may still hold for different things such as this?

4. Respond to at least one other poster's question.

What were the most amusing parts of Book One for you?

Most amusing part i have to agree with another poster up further was the entire series of events of Desdemona trying to get the two available girls in the village pampered and "attractive" for Lefty to want.


message 25: by Heather (new)

Heather (heatherbowman) | 722 comments 1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I'm Heather! I'm a librarian. This is my second time doing the reading challenge.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I promised myself in December when I decided to do the challenge that I would do all of the monthly reads (except YA, for various reasons, and re-reads). I want to expand my reading and that includes being open-minded about books I wouldn't normally read ... like this one.

3. Have you read any other books by Jeffrey Eugenides?
Nope.

4. If you've started the book already what is your initial impression?
I haven't started the book. I only got it from the library yesterday. I'll probably start reading it this weekend, which means I have a lot of catching up to do! I usually spend all Sunday reading so hopefully I can join in on the discussion then.

The accepted term when referring to people with this medical condition is intersex (it's the I in LGBTQIA). Animals are hermaphrodites; people are intersex. I hope the book uses the correct term, if it uses one at all.


message 26: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments Heather wrote: "1. Please introduce yourself.
Hi, I'm Heather! I'm a librarian. This is my second time doing the reading challenge.

2. Why did you decide to read Middlesex?
I promised myself in December when I de..."


Unfortunately the book does use the term hermaphrodite throughout and it did make me a bit uncomfortable but I understand its use for 2 reasons.

1) Cal was born in the early 60s at a time when the word intersex was not widely use.
2) Even in the modern section of the book which seems like it's happening in the 80s or 90s (I've not finished the book so I'm not entirely sure), the intersex movement is new and Cal says that he doesn't have an interest in identifying with the movement so it seems that he prefers to refer to himself as hermaphrodite,

Again, I've not finished the book so this might be further explored but this is what I understand of the usage of the term so far.


message 27: by Heather (new)

Heather (heatherbowman) | 722 comments Jess wrote: "Unfortunately the book does use the term hermaphrodite throughout and it did make me a bit uncomfortable but I understand its use for 2 reasons."

When it comes to historical fiction, I try to take a deep breath and be thankful society can evolve. Modern sensibilities cannot always apply without being revisionist. I didn't realize that's when the character was born. Thank you for explaining.


message 28: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments Heather wrote: "Jess wrote: "Unfortunately the book does use the term hermaphrodite throughout and it did make me a bit uncomfortable but I understand its use for 2 reasons."

When it comes to historical fiction, ..."


So after reading a bit further it seems that the modern section is set a bit more recently than I initially thought (He mentions G.W. Bush) but I think my second point still stands and it brings up an interesting thought.

It is quite realistic that an older people from a particular community might refer to themselves in the terms that are archaic as those are the terms they grew up with. We shouldn't begrudge anyone the choice to refer to themselves how they wish even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. However, this is a fictional character so the author has therefore made the decision for him to refer to himself in this way. Whilst realistic, is it responsible?


message 29: by Heather (new)

Heather (heatherbowman) | 722 comments Jess wrote: "It is quite realistic that an older people from a particular community might refer to themselves in the terms that are archaic as those are the terms they grew up with. We shouldn't begrudge anyone the choice to refer to themselves how they wish even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. However, this is a fictional character so the author has therefore made the decision for him to refer to himself in this way. Whilst realistic, is it responsible? "

Normally, I would not participate in a book discussion until I'd read at least some of the book, but since I brought up this topic, I think I'll respond.

Whilst realistic, is it responsible?

That is the question. It's always the question when discussing fiction written by someone who is not part of the group they're writing about. The author is not intersex.

I found this page from the Intersex Initiative, a group of intersex individuals, that discusses the novel and what the organization thinks about it. This seems like a measured statement. Intersex Initiative: Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex" and Intersex They acknowledge that "hermaphrodite" has an historical usage and mythological origin, but like Laura said, encourage the use of "intersex" when discussing the book.


message 30: by Laura (new)

Laura Miles | 244 comments I wonder if, besides being chosen to reflect a certain time period, the use of "hermaphrodite" by Cal is also a reminder of Greek heritage? The original term derives from the god Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes (messenger and trickster god) and Aphrodite (goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality). Hermaphroditus is known for his androgynous form, having merged with a female nymph and portraying both masculine and feminine traits. This might be intentional by the author to further enrich our understanding of Cal's Greek heritage and the symbolism of ancient mythology in storytelling.


message 31: by Jess (last edited Jun 16, 2018 08:23AM) (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments Who is Jimmy Zizmo? How does he influence the course of events in the novel?

Jimmy Zizmo is one of those characters whose motivations are very much hidden from the reader. We were told about his jealousy and you can see how the circumstances of Tessie's birth may have led him to jump to the wrong conclusions but I was really not expecting him to go off the rails as he did. I was also not expecting him to turn up again later in the novel so that was a fun surprise. I guess the old trope holds, if there's no body they're probably not dead!

He definitely influences both Lefty and Desdemona by introducing Lefty to his contacts in the alcohol and bootlegging business and by strengthening Desdemona's religious inclinations as Fard. His disappearance also has repercussions for Milton and Tessie because if he was around, their relationship would probably not have been allowed to develop in the way that it did.

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?

Desdemona's fear of such an alien environment is very understandable especially having grown up in a village and now living in a city. I liked the part where she was trying to find the place in the job adverts and her perceptions of the neighbourhood.

Milton appears to be eager to assimilate and take on all things American with his jazz music and in joining the navy. I think all young people are keen to reject the traditions of their parents and second-generation immigrants could connect these with their heritage.

At this point in the book it's difficult to know how Cal views America (apart from his ramblings on presidents names which is funny in hindsight knowing that Obama broke that pattern and now we are back with single syllable Trump) I am interested to hear more about it including why he moved to Germany.


message 32: by Teri (last edited Jun 16, 2018 04:22PM) (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments Who is Jimmy Zismo? How does he influence the course of events in the novel?
He is a rather bizarre character for sure. It made sense that he was a con man during Prohibition, but the religious scam was unexpected and seemingly out of character. I didn't think he had enough charisma to have pulled that off. At least his wife got a chance to live a more authentic life. As far as how he influences the course of events, he provided the means for Lefty and Desdemona to come to the United States and start a new life.

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?
America was never a comfortable place for Desdemona, and she was of the sort that really missed the "good old days" of her home country, even when those days weren't always so good.

Milton grew up with the idea of the American Dream, and he did what he needed to do to create the life he wanted. He rejected much of his Greek past and was fully American. I imagine this was quite usual for a second-generation American. We all have a tendency to think our parents' ways are old-fashioned anyway, and I suppose that is intensified in a new American family.

As for Cal, it is hard to say since we only know bits and pieces of his story so far.


message 33: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments Who is Jimmy Zizmo? How does he influence the course of events in the novel?

1. Zizmo is an enigma. He despises anything American, yet chooses profiteering with no concern for breaking the law because of it. To succeed in profiteering he mimics an appearance he’s fitting in and yet in his home, his household rules have not reverted from traditional Greek gender roles. He is a chameleon, calculating and ruthless, and has a talent for influencing members of either the white or black communities for his own purposes.

Zizmo finances Lefty and Desdemona’s travel to the U.S. and he has direct influence over them because of his local connections and they are living in his home, unknowingly affected Lefty’s employment and firing, and co-incidentally Desdemona’s job at the Temple.

Even in his fake death he impacted their lives when Lefty seemed to find no alternative except to start his own profiteering business when he had to assume Zizmo’s mortgage on the house.


message 34: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments 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?

Desdemona is defiant to give up her “Old World” cultural identity whether it’s a situation about religion, community or language, especially since she only speaks and writes Greek. Like her aversion to Muslims, she seems to become increasingly racist toward whites? Or it is blacks? I’m not sure yet. For now, she’s seen enough to feel that whites have a significant effect on the residents of Black Bottom. As a first-generation Greek American, she is American primarily in name only, and fiercely holds on to her Greek identity.

Milton rejects Greek traditions and customs despite pressure from Desdemona. He recognizes and seeks opportunities to succeed and achieve the American ‘dream’. He seems typical of second-generation family with his ability to obtain a higher level of financial and personal success because he’s successfully assimilated into the American culture.

Cal acknowledges an occasional Greek custom or tradition but has never been pushed to learn any Greek customs or the language. It is typical for a third generation relative to know so much about their family’s immigration history or is Cal gifted with this knowledge to fill the role as narrator? So far Cal’s status in the story has more to do with his sexuality than his assimilation as a relative of Greek immigrants.


message 35: by Sonali (new)

Sonali Ekka | 86 comments Week three - Book Two

Who is Jimmy Zizmo? How does he influence the course of events in the novel?
I think Zizmo was a sort of a prop in the novel, the character who is present only to enable and bring some logic to the story. He first appears when Lefty and Desdemona are escaping to the USA. I mean, if they’re escaping, they need a sponsor to take them in. There’s no better male relative, who’s easily dispensable, than a female relative’s husband! Then Zizmo helped Lefty get a job (and got him fired too!) and again introduced him into the world of bootlegging. Here the writer used Zizmo to get Lefty out of a factory job and into the world of business. I mean the skills that Lefty learned helped him survive the Prohibition. He even left behind the Zebra room which helped elevate Lefty’s situation so much.

And while Zizmo helped Lefty stand on his feet, he indirectly keeps Desdemona close to her Greek roots. When he was alive, he kept strictly rules at home and adhered to his Greek ways. He told Lefty how his wife (Desdemona) understands and lives a traditional lifestyle. And later, when he dies and Desdemona joins the Temple, she further questions but clings to Greek Orthodoxy after listening to his sermons.

Zizmo conveniently disappears from the story to let Tessie grow up and get closer to Milton. Had Zizmo been alive, Lefty and Desdemona probably would have to move out and then Tessie and Milton would have grown up as cousins. But the proximity of their homes and growing up together since childhood, Zizmo’s absence was a perfect environment for them to fall for each other.

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?

For Desdemona, America is something which shouldn’t have happened in her life. Just like her parents shouldn’t have died in front of her eyes, Smyrna shouldn’t have burned, they shouldn’t have to leave their home and her silkworms. America should have been avoided altogether and yet it happened. She was forced to leave her home and her silkworms, as if that wasn’t enough, the US customs made her throw away her silkworms, and they cut her hair short, thus symbolically stripping away her Greek identity. Desdemona lived her entire life considering America as something which was forced upon her. She carried her Greece in her heart and her mind.

Milton, on the other hand, was born a US citizen and is as American as he could get. He doesn’t know how to write Greek and later, is even unable to speak it fluently. He’s in the Boy Scouts, collecting every badge possible except one. And later, when he can afford it, he keeps buying a series of Cadillacs. He even moves to the posh suburb despite being unwanted there and despite all attempts by the real estate agent to distract him. He is a typical American who works hard to establish a respectable spot in the society. He isn’t attached to Greece much, because he postpones going to the country despite his mother’s insistence. During the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, his political opinions infuriate the other Greek immigrants who rush out of his home.

Cal doesn’t care much about his American citizenship or Greek background. I guess it doesn’t matter to him anymore. His inner turmoil about his puberty and sexuality are more serious concerns than national identity. Also, Cal is too young for that.


message 36: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments What role does race play in the novel? How do the Detroit riots of 1967 affect the Stephanides family and Cal, specifically?

Other than propelling the family into the middle class I don't see the riots as having any longterm effect on Cal thus far. He seemed concerned about the rioters initially but quickly moved on and assimilated into his suburbs environment.


How are Cal's early sexual experiences similar to those of any adolescent? How are they different? Are the differences more significant than the similarities?

I felt that Cal's experiences were very similar to adolescents. The scene in the shack made me so uncomfortable because I myself have been in similar situations when I was younger as have most people I know. Alcohol, seclusion and teenagers with raging hormones, it's a recipe for disaster.

On the other hand, his experiences with 'The Object' were also very reminiscent of those first teenage fumblings when no one really knows what they're doing but just want to explore (the comparison to parking lots and movie theatres was brilliant). However, I didn't like the fact that 'The Object' didn't really consent to their first encounter.

What makes Cal different is that his uncertainty about his body added an additional level of insecurity to the hundreds of layers an adolescent already has!

Describe Middlesex. Does the house have a symbolic function in the novel?

I love how Middlesex was described! I could so clearly picture such a strange quirky house. I would love to visit it but probably not to live there!

I think it is symbolic of Milton's need to forge his own path in the world and make the most out of something others wouldn't give a second look to. Obviously, the name is symbolic too.

How is Cal's experience living within two genders similar to the immigrant experience of living within two cultures? How is it different?

Gender is very much like culture in a lot of ways where it is something you are born into and taught the 'rules' of from a young age. There is a performative nature to both gender and culture where you adjust to the social norms.

At this point in the book, Cal seems pretty feminine to me. The only ways in which she is 'male' is in her physicality and her sexuality. It will be interesting to see how her identity changes as she comes to terms with her condition in book four.


message 37: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments Okay I'm a few chapters into book 4 and I need to rant so if you've not read the Chapter Entitled 'Looking Myself Up in Websters Dictionary' yet, you may encounter spoilers.

(view spoiler)


message 38: by Teri (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments Week Four - Book Three

What role does race play in the novel? How do the Detroit riots of 1967 affect the Stephanides family and Cal, specifically?


The Detroit riots convinced Milton that his family needed to move to the suburbs. His sense of safety for his family was changed and he wanted to get away from the racial issues of the inner city. His family had to face discrimination themselves in their new area, but apparently they felt safer anyway. I think Cal may have felt differently about race than his father, but it is hard to tell yet.

How are Cal's early sexual experiences similar to those of any adolescent? How are they different? Are the differences more significant than the similarities?

Many teenagers experience awkward and somewhat horrible sexual experiences. Callie's were somewhat similar to many, with the added issues of not understanding her body at that point (she suspected something was wrong but didn't know what). Then she had to deal with her feelings for another girl (which likely didn't feel like being a lesbian, which added its own confusion). I think the differences were more significant, but not by a lot as most of us were really mixed up about sexual experiences in those years.

Describe Middlesex. Does the house have a symbolic function in the novel?

The name of the house obviously has a symbolic function of also being a name for Callie's "condition." The house was a confusing mess of architecture, but had its own charm, which symbolizes Callie's feelings about herself.

How is Cal's experience living within two genders similar to the immigrant experience of living within two cultures? How is it different?

Cal realizes at some point that he can understand both genders in a way that most people cannot. This is similar to how some immigrants likely process their two cultures, always feeling part of both, understanding both, but never being fully one or the other. The difference would be that Cal has less of a choice in which gender he presents to the world, where an immigrant can more fully decide how much to assimilate into their new culture.


message 39: by Jess (new)

Jess Penhallow | 427 comments I've finished.

I think this might be my favourite book of the year. I'm so glad this group read bumped it up my TBR. Some parts (see my rant above) made me really angry but in a good way because it was the fantastic writing that elicited such strong emotions in me. Just wow!


message 40: by Teri (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments I finished a couple of days ago as well. Book four is a doozy. Can't wait to see what the questions are.


message 41: by Teri (last edited Jul 02, 2018 12:37PM) (new)

Teri (teria) | 1324 comments Week Five - Book Four

What is Dr. Luce's role in the novel? Would you describe him as a villain?


Dr Luce's role was to assist Cal in determining his biology. I wouldn't consider him a villain because I do not believe he had evil intentions. He got carried away by his research and was excited when he believed that his nurture v. nature theory was correct. But he obviously made grevious mistakes and unethical errors in judgment by not telling Cal or his parents the truth.

Why does Cal decide to live as a man rather than as a woman?

He made this decision so quickly that it was surprising. Apparently he realized that it would be easier for him to live as his biology has been revealed, and initially felt like a way to resolve the problems he had had as a girl. I would have had to give it much more thought.

"Watching from the cab, Milton came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try" (p. 426). According to this definition, is Cal's story a tragedy?

While Cal's story is tragic due to not having sufficient information to make life decisions for several years, I do not think his life is a tragedy. Most people have something really difficult to overcome, and the will to do so is what gives life meaning. Cal obviously wanted to make a good life for himself, and did his best while dealing with some difficult circumstances.

The final sentence of the novel reads: "I lost track after a while, happy to be home, weeping for my father, and thinking about what was next" (p. 529). What is next for Cal? Does the author give us reason to believe that Cal's relationship with Julie will be successful?

Cal overcame some of the difficulties that had been holding him back, such as his relationship with his family and his fear of becoming romantically attached. I choose to believe that his life will be vastly improved from here on out. While his relationship with Julie may not last, he will likely find it easier to find love a second time.


message 42: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments *BOOK THREE DISCUSSION QUESTIONS* Week Four - Book Three

What role does race play in the novel? How do the Detroit riots of 1967 affect the Stephanides family and Cal, specifically?
Racial inequality and subsequent warfare affects many choices and opportunities for each generation. Physical fear and financial ruin terrorize the family that’s unable to relocate. Racial tensions between Milton and Cal’s friend confused Cal until she realizes how vulnerable she and her father were in the midst of the guerilla warfare and understood they were in danger. As it often happens in life, it’s ironic setting fire to the restaurant gave the family the opportunity to relocate that wasn’t an option before.

How are Cal's early sexual experiences similar to those of any adolescent? How are they different? Are the differences more significant than the similarities?

I agree with Laura about the girls’ lack of consent being troublesome. I’m glad to see this book is included on many high school recommended or required reading lists to encourage discussion among students.

Describe Middlesex. Does the house have a symbolic function in the novel?

I would have loved living in Middlesex with all its quirks. Reading that that house had hallways with wide glass panes surrounding a courtyard, I thought of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas house in Springfield, Illinois that has a similar design. As mentioned earlier, Middlesex also fits to describe Cal’s physical dilemma about gender.


message 43: by Shirley J (new)

Shirley J (fastreader) | 28 comments Teri and Laura, I agree with your comments.

What is Dr. Luce's role in the novel? Would you describe him as a villain?

Dr. Luce was an opportunist, although some credit should be given to Cal's parents for that. They granted Dr. Luce unquestioned authority by assuming he knew what was best for Cal.

Why does Cal decide to live as a man rather than as a woman?

Once Cal was aware that a choice had to be made about gender, I think some masculine physical changes were easy to overlook .. having an adam's apple appear, change in voice, height, facial bone structure and hair. Cal may have also reflected on the physical attraction of girl friends after sessions with Dr. Luce and determined those feelings were motivated more by masculinity than originally assumed.

Definitely don't feel Cal's story was a tragedy. He had made several positive moves in his career, where he lived, and his relationship with Julie.

There's so much more to this story than the specific character's lives, that it's worth reading again. My only wish would be that the book had 100 fewer pages.


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