You are in for an interesting ride if you choose to read this book. It is written from the point of view of a hermaphrodite of Greek ancestry who was raised as a female until the age of 14, when his condition was finally discovered. In order to make sense of what has happened, he tells the story of the choices made by his grandparents and parents that eventually led to his deformity.
Cal/Calliope/Callie is an interesting individual. He spins the web of his grandparents’ incestuous marriage and the subsequent marriage of his parents (second cousins) as if he was present and knew the truth of their lives. As he spends much of the book understanding who he is and why this has happened to him, it’s hard to know if the stories that predate Callie’s memories are accurate or pieced together to help him make sense of his family.
As Callie grows into adolescence, she is deeply concerned with why her body is not developing like her classmates. Her anxiety is reminiscent of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret with the exception that you, as the reader, know that she will never see her breasts fill out or start menstruating. Her sexual interest in women was also a concern of hers and later helped her determine how she wanted to live the rest of her life.
As the reader is unsure of how Cal’s genital deformity would be discovered, there are several places where you think to yourself, “No! Not this way!” When Callie finds out that she is genetically male, you feel the pain in her heart and can empathize with his parents. Had they not used an elderly doctor from the Old World, this would have been discovered at birth and “corrected” without anyone being the wiser including Cal. His parents’ regrets are really a freedom to him. What he does with knowledge of his identity is terrifying and surprising.
I enjoyed this book, even though it did not read quickly. This book is just as much about family dynamics as it is about the way in which genetic deformities are passed down and finally manifested in the younger generations. You will enjoy the flawed grandparents, parents, and siblings. You will enjoy the journey you take with young immigrants and how their children assimilate themselves into the great melting pot.
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