Sunday, October 5, 2008


Part one of my recent book reviews - with part two The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.

This was a beautifully written book. It could have been a sad, tragic story of a young person raised as a girl who is genetically male. The author could have focused on the difficulties, the tragedy of genetics.

But I didn't find the book depressing. I found it thought provoking and intriguing. I've read sad books (I wrote a long paper on Tess of the D'Ubervilles back in the day. This was not Tess.)

Eugenides goes through the main character's story, starting with the choices that main character's grandparents and parents made. There is acknowledgement and sympathy in those choices - despite the pain that they ended up causing unwittingly. I don't want to go more into what happened exactly, as the book un ravels the mystery so well.

One of the more fascinating aspects of it is to question our own gender - how much of gender is how we are raised, and how much is genetic. I can't imagine being raised male and then finding out (as a teenager) that I was really female. As difficult as the path of being female is in this culture - I can't imagine switching canoes midstream (as the cliche goes). I've always had a clear understanding of who I was, what I am - whether or not I fit the stereotypical female role.

I won't say too much about the ending, but I did appreciate the notion that we are influenced both by society and genetics. I don't think that it's one way or the other. It does make feminism (and humanism) all the more difficult. It would be simple to assume that we were all capable of everything - but we're not. We each have personal strengths and weaknesses - both genetic predisposition AND social disposition. What matters is that we do not stereotype or pigeonhole individuals. And that we seek for understanding and compassion where possible.

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