My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
My favorite book of all-time. I just finished reading it for the third, but certainly not last, time. It is a true gem.
This novel won the Pulitzer prize in 2003 and the author, Jeffrey Eugenides also wrote The Virgin Suicides, which I haven’t read and The Marriage Plot, which I have read (but didn’t like).
Here’s why I think this book rocks:
- The story is completely different. It is, at its core, about a girl named Calliope and how she is ‘different’ than other girls. And by ‘different’ I mean ‘is a hermaphrodite’. The book is first person and actually covers her birth and young adult life, the lives of her grandparents and parents AND her own life as an adult. The way in which these stories are told separately but are interwoven and made relevant to Calliope’s own story is really brilliant. There is ‘bouncing’ between time periods, but in a completely clear and non-irksome way. I have never read or read about a plot quite like this. To me the originality is a reflection of the author’s genius.
- Much of it is set in a location and a time period I identify with – Detroit, Michigan and its suburbs in the 1970s. Okay, so I don’t live in Detroit or even Michigan, but I have lived just outside a city in the Rust belt all my life and it is almost identical to Detroit. I also born until the late 1970s, but close enough to Calliope’s 1960 birth to feel of the same generation. Think Pony t-shirts and Kangaroo shoes (with a quarter in the zippered pocket).
- Calliope has immigrant grandparents, with which I also identify. I have grandparents who emigrated from Italy, hers from Asia Minor. While the ethnicity differs, the way the ‘old world’ traditions infiltrate into the subsequent generations is exactly the same as my experience. From the foods to the words and phrases and the traditions around births and deaths and the overall ultra-religious insanity, all of which seeming so odd to an outsider rang so true with me.
- Calliope’s point of view is witty and sarcastic, which is my favorite form of humor. My mom might argue that sarcasm is not funny at all (mine isn’t anyways) but that’s another story. Wit has intelligence at its core making this story is extremely intelligent too. Every sentence is rich with irony, call backs (referencing something already covered earlier in the book) and satire. I’ve read this book 3 times and found something new each time!
- Calliope’s weird and so am I. Note: we are not weird in the SAME way. Obviously. I mean that we are both a little quirky in the way we look at the world. Some combination of self-consciousness,confidence, and over analysis.
The only negative I can say about this book is that the beginning part, the part when Desdemona and her husband come to America, is a teensy, tiny bit slow. I beg you to push through it. It is totally worth it. The pace picks up after that part. Don’t give up on Calliope!