To the extent that fetal hormones affect brain chemistry and histology; I’ve got a male brain. But I was raised as a girl. So begins the story of Cal Stephanides who also states that “when this story goes out into the world; I may become the most famous hermaphrodite in history.” But before Cal’s coming of age can be revealed, the author takes us back, epic fashion, to the courtship of his grandparents in a tiny Greek village, their immigration to the USA on the heels of a bloody Turkish invasion, and their turbulent new life in downtown Detroit. We then follow the romance of Cal’s parents – Milton and Tessie who know they are cousins but don’t realize that Milton’s parents are brother and sister. Finally, as Cal grows up awkward and lonely in an all girl school, we have a heart-wrenching depiction of unrequited love and loss of identity.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
There was general agreement that Eugenes is a terrific story-teller and that the book contains rich nuggets of history, human nature and humour. Some readers were frustrated by the lack of focus on Cal’s story and wanted more details about the years between his adolescence and adulthood. The depictions of 1960s Detroit, the Nation of Islam, the Zebra Room and Cal’s school were detailed and fascinating. While there is enough symbolism, character development and sylistic prose here to keep a professor lecturing for weeks, it rarely gets in the way of the story. Recommended.