Posts Tagged ‘multi-generational saga’
Right before the winter holidays, I had the pleasure of attending a Secret Santa book swap hosted by my friend Trisha. To this festive fête I brought a wrapped copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, because it’s one of my favorite books, and is also the book that first exposed me to one of my literary loves: magical realism. I was delighted when a copy of The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende wound up for grabs that night, because it’s another magical realist book I’ve been wanting to read for quite sometime. Alas, the copies I’ve always come across at the used bookstore have always been horrific mass-market paperbacks with atrocious covers, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy any of them. They were just too ugly! Now, I won’t say that the copy I wound up with at this book swap has a beautiful cover (the art is clearly airbrush work of the 1980s), but it was a lovely hardback copy with decaled edge pages, and the girl (named Eliza, who is also a friend, and also a Spanish-language speaker extraordinaire!) who brought it attested to the quality of the translation. With all that in mind, I only felt a little bad when I stole it from another party attendee, forcing her to dive back into the wrapped gift pile.
The House of the Spirits is a hard book to summarize, in part because so much happens. It is one of those sweeping family epics in which readers are privy to the lives of the Trueba family over the course of three generations. We begin with Clara as a young child, and watch as she grows up, marries Estéban Trueba, has three children of her own, and eventually becomes a grandmother and dies. As the women in each generation reach maturity, the narrative torch is passed from woman to woman, though Esteban himself recalls parts of the past in his own words. The beginning portion of the novel has much to do with love and relationships, but there are also discussion of social class (peasants vs patróns) and politics. In the last 100 pages of the novel, there is a shift so that the narration revolves heavily around politics and social uprisings, dealing with the first election of a left-wing leader in Chile and his ultimate deposition by a dictatorship.
It seems like pretty much everyone in the universe who reads this book (and their moms) loves it. It won the Pulitzer in 2003 (generally a point in a book’s favor, I would say), but it was also named an Oprah’s book club pick (I don’t want to be a snob, but let’s say that I don’t look to Queen O to dictate my reading habits… I certainly don’t think people should read particular books simply at her say so, but I suppose it would be equally wrong for me to NOT read a book for the same reason). It’s been sitting on the shelf long enough that I vowed to not be daunted by its 500+ pages any longer.
In the end, I’m glad I did, because those pages were immensely readable and wove a very rich tale indeed. At first glance, Middlesex appears to be the story of a hermaphrodite (lady-man lady!), Cal(liope) Stephanides. Cal is born with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, a genetic disorder stemming from a chromosomal mutation. This results in an insensitivity to testosterone while in the womb, such that Cal is born with the outward appearance of a female; at puberty, however, the influx of testerone causes certain male characteristics to appear. I found the idea of exploring the nature versus nurture debate with respect to sexual and gender identity through fiction to be a pretty interesting ones and hoped Eugenides would treat the subject with a deft hand.