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Welcome to our comprehensive audiobook review of “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has become a literary classic and continues to captivate audiences worldwide. In this review, we’ll dive into this epic story’s exploration of identity and heritage, its unique narrative style, engaging characters, and significance in contemporary literature. So, let’s get started with our audiobook review of “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Overview of “Middlesex”

Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Middlesex” is a sweeping epic that explores themes of identity, heritage, and self-discovery. The story follows the life of narrator Cal, who is intersex and raised as female before discovering his true identity as a boy. Through Cal’s journey, Eugenides explores complex issues of gender, sexuality, and cultural identity, taking readers on a multi-generational journey through the history of a Greek-American family.


The novel is broken into three parts, the first of which is set in the late 1920s in Greece, where Cal’s grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, meet and eventually move to the United States, settling in Detroit. The second part of the book follows the life of Cal’s parents, Milton and Tessie, and their relationship leading up to Cal’s birth. The final section deals with Cal’s life starting in childhood, his realization of his intersexuality, and eventual gender reassignment. Throughout the book, Eugenides weaves together themes of identity, heritage, and family, culminating in a powerful exploration of the complexity of human experience.


“Middlesex” features a rich cast of characters, including Cal’s maternal grandparents Desdemona and Lefty, who are the first to come to America and start the story off, and Cal’s parents Milton and Tessie, whose relationship is tumultuous and passionate. But it is Cal who truly shines as the protagonist, as he struggles with his family’s past and his own identity, eventually coming to terms with who he truly is.


Eugenides tackles a wide range of themes in “Middlesex,” including those of identity, heritage, and self-discovery. The novel delves into the complexities of gender and sexuality and the emotional toll of living a life that is not authentic to who one truly is. Eugenides also explores the themes of family, love, and culture, examining the interplay between one’s heritage and one’s sense of self.

The Engaging Narrative Style

Jeffrey Eugenides’ narrative style in “Middlesex” is truly captivating and distinctive. The book’s structure, point of view, and storytelling techniques contribute to the reader’s experience in a unique way.

The novel’s narrative is framed as an extended confession, with the protagonist Cal recounting the story of his life and family history. This approach allows Eugenides to explore complex issues of gender and identity with emotional depth and honesty.

Throughout the book, the author weaves together different timelines and perspectives to create a rich tapestry of storytelling. The reader follows Cal’s journey from hermaphrodite to man, as well as the histories of his grandparents and parents, tracing their roots back to the Greek village of Bithynios.

Eugenides employs vivid imagery and sensory language to transport the reader to different times and places, creating a vivid sense of the settings and characters. The use of metaphor and symbolism adds further depth to the story, making the reader truly feel invested in the characters and their journeys.

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

The combination of these various storytelling techniques makes “Middlesex” a truly engaging and immersive novel. Readers cannot help but be drawn into the story and remain invested throughout its entirety.

Exploring Identity and Heritage

Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex” is a captivating exploration of identity and heritage. The protagonist, Calliope Stephanides, struggles with her identity as an intersex individual and grapples with issues of gender, sexuality, and cultural identity throughout the novel.

Eugenides skillfully navigates these complex topics through the lens of Calliope’s personal journey, which takes her from her birthplace in Greece to her upbringing in a 20th-century, middle-class Detroit family.

The author’s vivid descriptions of the immigrant experience and the pressures of assimilation add further depth and complexity to the theme of identity. The multigenerational saga of the Stephanides family serves as a microcosm of the American experience, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of immigrants and their descendants.

“The middle generations squeezed between old-world grandparents and newborn daughters, all of them clamoring for their own American experience, were the ones who took the worst beating.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Eugenides’ powerful writing style and attention to detail make “Middlesex” an unforgettable exploration of the complexities of identity and heritage. The novel’s impact on readers and its recognition as a Pulitzer Prize winner underscore its ongoing significance in contemporary literature.

The Significance of Setting

One of the most striking features of “Middlesex” is its rich and evocative setting, which spans multiple time periods and locations. From the bustling streets of Detroit to the idyllic rural landscape of Greece, the novel’s setting provides a vivid backdrop for the complex story of its protagonist, Calliope Stephanides.

Jeffrey Eugenides skillfully employs the setting to create a sense of time and place, immersing readers in the sights, sounds, and cultural nuances of each location. Furthermore, the various settings serve as a metaphor for Calliope’s own journey of self-discovery, highlighting the importance of cultural heritage and personal identity.

For instance, the lush forests and glittering seascapes of Greece represent an idyllic paradise of sorts, a place where Calliope’s ancestors originated from. The gritty streets of Detroit, by contrast, represent the harsh realities of contemporary American life, including issues of social inequality and discrimination.

Overall, the setting of “Middlesex” adds depth and context to the story, anchoring the narrative in a specific time and place while also exploring universal themes of identity and belonging.

setting in Middlesex

“Eugenides’ vivid descriptions of setting create a truly immersive reading experience, transporting readers to a variety of locales and bringing them to life.”

Character Development and Depth

One of the standout features of “Middlesex” is the depth and complexity of its characters. Jeffrey Eugenides masterfully conveys the inner thoughts and emotions of the protagonist, Calliope/Cal, as well as those of other key players such as Satyria, Milton, and Tessie. Through their growth and transformation, readers gain a deeper understanding of the themes of identity, family, and cultural heritage that are at the heart of the novel. As Cal grapples with their gender identity and the effects of their family’s intergenerational trauma, the supporting characters also undergo their own journeys of personal evolution and self-discovery.

In addition to the well-drawn main characters, Eugenides also skillfully develops the minor players, such as Cal’s grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty, and their Greek relatives. This attention to detail and nuance creates a rich and textured world in which the story unfolds.

“Callie . . . I’m sure there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t want to have sex with girls. I really want to have sex with you.” – Eugenides, Jeffrey

Themes Explored in “Middlesex”

Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex” explores a wide range of thought-provoking themes, providing readers a window into the complexities of the human experience. The novel’s primary themes include:

Themes Description
Identity “Middlesex” delves deeply into issues of identity, exploring the nuances of gender, race, and cultural heritage.
Family The role of family in shaping one’s sense of self is examined throughout the novel, with a particular focus on the bonds between parents and children.
Love Love takes on many forms in “Middlesex,” from the passionate romance of two young adults to the familial bonds that span generations.
Societal Expectations The expectations placed on individuals by society are a central concern of the novel, as the protagonist struggles to reconcile societal norms with personal desires and needs.

Through his exploration of these themes, Eugenides raises thought-provoking questions about what it means to be human and how we can find fulfillment and purpose in a world that often seems at odds with our true selves.

Narration and Performance in the Audiobook

One of the vital aspects of an audiobook is the narration and performance that brings the story to life, and “Middlesex” is no exception. The audiobook is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, who expertly captures the characters’ voices and the essence of the book.

Tabori’s delivery and pacing are exceptional, making it easy to follow the story’s complex structure and the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery. His handling of the book’s themes of identity and heritage is sensitive and nuanced, adding depth to the listening experience.

Overall, Tabori’s narration and performance in the “Middlesex” audiobook create a captivating and engaging listening experience, making it an excellent alternative to reading the physical book, particularly for those who enjoy audiobooks.

“Tabori’s delivery and pacing are exceptional, making it easy to follow the story’s complex structure and the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery.”

Critical Reception and Awards

Since its publication in 2002, “Middlesex” has received widespread critical acclaim for its provocative and insightful exploration of identity and heritage. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003, solidifying its status as a modern classic.

The book’s critical reception has reflected its popularity with readers, garnering positive reviews from top publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Eugenides’ masterful prose and engaging storytelling have been lauded as major contributing factors to the book’s success.

The awards received by “Middlesex” further underscore its significance within the literary world. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, the novel was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Its recognition as a groundbreaking work of modern fiction has solidified its place in literary history.

Overall, “Middlesex” has received critical and popular acclaim for its bold exploration of complex themes and masterful execution. Its significance within the literary world cannot be overstated.

Comparisons to Other Works by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides has established himself as one of the most significant contemporary American authors, with several critically acclaimed works to his name. While each of his books explores unique themes and subject matter, Eugenides’ signature style is evident throughout. In this section, we compare “Middlesex” to some of Eugenides’ other notable works, highlighting similarities and differences in themes, style, and narrative structure.

The Virgin Suicides

Eugenides’ debut novel, “The Virgin Suicides,” explores similar themes of identity, family, and coming-of-age as “Middlesex.” Both books are set in the past and feature rich characterizations and detailed explorations of complex emotions and relationships. However, “The Virgin Suicides” is written in a more detached, observational style, whereas “Middlesex” employs a more personal, introspective voice.

The Marriage Plot

“The Marriage Plot” is a departure from Eugenides’ earlier works, focusing on the romantic relationships of college students rather than issues of identity and heritage. However, like “Middlesex,” the book features complex and flawed characters and explores themes of self-discovery and the search for meaning in life. “The Marriage Plot” is a more traditional novel in structure compared to the experimental style of “Middlesex.”

Fresh Complaint

Eugenides’ collection of short stories, “Fresh Complaint,” showcases his versatility as a writer. The stories explore a range of topics and styles, from the humorous and satirical to the serious and contemplative. While none of the stories are directly related to “Middlesex,” there are common themes of family, relationships, and self-discovery threaded throughout, highlighting the author’s ability to examine and illuminate universal human experiences in various forms.

Discussion Questions for Further Exploration

Here are some discussion questions to help you dive deeper into the themes and ideas presented in “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides:

  1. What role does family history play in shaping the identity of the main characters?
  2. How does the author explore the complexities of gender and sexuality in the novel?
  3. What are some of the major themes in “Middlesex,” and how are they developed throughout the story?
  4. What is the significance of the setting in the novel, and how does it contribute to the overall narrative?
  5. What are some of the challenges faced by the protagonist in his journey of self-discovery, and how does he overcome them?
  6. How does the author use narrative style and structure to engage and captivate the reader?
  7. What is the role of cultural heritage in shaping the identity of the main characters?
  8. What are some similarities and differences between “Middlesex” and other works by Jeffrey Eugenides?
  9. How do the themes and issues explored in “Middlesex” resonate with contemporary society?
  10. What is the impact and legacy of “Middlesex” on the literary world?

Impact and Legacy

“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides has had a profound impact on contemporary literature, cementing its place as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and a modern classic. Eugenides’ exploration of identity and heritage has resonated with readers worldwide, and the book has been translated into more than 30 languages.

The legacy of “Middlesex” is evident in the numerous accolades it has received, as well as its enduring popularity with readers over a decade after its initial publication. The book continues to be studied in universities and book clubs, and has inspired countless discussions and debates.

“As a reader, “Middlesex” left an indelible mark on me. Its themes and characters stayed with me long after I finished reading, and I found myself pondering the book’s deeper implications for days. It’s no wonder that it has become a seminal work in contemporary literature.”

– Emma Watson, Actress and book club founder

Recommendations for Fans of “Middlesex”

For those who have enjoyed “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, we recommend exploring other works that share similar themes and styles. Here are a few titles that may resonate with fans of Eugenides’ masterpiece:

Book Title Author
The Virgin Suicides Jeffrey Eugenides
The Namesake Jhumpa Lahiri
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Color Purple Alice Walker
The House on Mango Street Sandra Cisneros

These books all explore complex themes of identity, heritage, and family bonds, similar to “Middlesex.” They also offer unique and compelling narratives that will engage readers and leave a lasting impression.

Recommendations for Fans of Middlesex


Audiobook lovers searching for a captivating and thought-provoking listen will find much to appreciate in “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel offers a compelling exploration of identity and heritage, with complex characters and a unique narrative style that keeps listeners engaged from start to finish.

Our review of the book has highlighted its various strengths, including its engaging narrative style, compelling exploration of identity and heritage, and skillful character development. We have also explored the significance of the setting, themes, and critical reception, providing a comprehensive overview of the novel’s impact and legacy.

For fans of “Middlesex” who are looking for similar books or authors, we have provided a list of recommendations that may appeal to those who appreciated Eugenides’ style and themes. And for those who are interested in exploring the novel’s ideas more deeply, we have provided a set of discussion questions that offer a starting point for further analysis and exploration.

All in all, “Middlesex” is a novel that has earned its place among the most celebrated works of contemporary literature. Its powerful exploration of identity and heritage continues to resonate with readers and listeners alike, making it a must-read for anyone who loves thought-provoking fiction that speaks to the human experience.

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