I grew up Asian in a Caucasian neighborhood. It wasn’t just “predominantly Caucasian.” Until a Hispanic family moved in down the street ten years into our residence here on Senasac Avenue (where I still reside today), we were the only people in the neighborhood who weren’t… well, white.
Perhaps that was why the story of Calliope Stephanides resonated with me so much. I had suspected that Jeffrey Eugenides’ tale of a third-generation Greek hermaphrodite would be rife with shocking scenes and burgeoning sexuality and sanctimonious, soapboxy judgments of people who would get freaked out by someone who happened to have XY genes in an XX exterior.
Instead, I found a sympathetic immigration story about a Greek family with a shameful family secret. We follow the Stephanides’ through three generations, through good times and bad.
I was particularly surprised at how kind Eugenides was in his portrayal of the older generations. He showed the difficulty of immigrant life, of marriage, and of growing up. I expected Callie’s parents to kick her out once she decided that she was really a he (don’t worry, you find that out in the first line of the book, so it’s not a spoiler), but was surprised that, in Eugenides’ story, he chose instead to let familial love trump confusion and fear.
I thought this book would be about the journey from Callie to Cal, but it was so much more about the Stephanides navigating their way through life in a foreign land. Callie provides narration and is ultimately the main character, but the book says as much about her grandparents and parents as it does about her — it says it in the way that she talks about them and in the way that they react to her.
I thought the book was well-written overall, but I should have known that a book about a hermaphrodite would have a few unsavory scenes. It actually wasn’t as bad as I originally feared, but I had to do my share of hasty flipping through certain chapters. But I couldn’t help but to appreciate the way that the author effortlessly weaved history, mythology, and narrative together to form a seamless story. That takes madd skillz.
I so want to be the Koreans’ Eugenides.
And that, my friends, means that I finished the Cannonball Read!!! YAY, ME!!! 😀