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Calliope Stephanides is 14 before she realizes that she is genetically, if not physically, a boy. From the opening of the novel, Eugenides presents the reader with a human instead of a freak. "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remotely 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." Instead of beginning his story with the shocking discovery and acceptance of the protagonist's true identity, Eugenides lets his story, like an ancient Greek myth, slowly unravel. In a style that mimics the mythical realism of Salman Rushdie as well as the tragic comedy of John Irving, Eugenides' novel spans more than 80 years and begins with the story of Calliope's grandparents. The breadth of the novel both astounds and bewilders the reader, but most importantly lets the reader relate to the characters not as the objects of ridicule, but as human beings. Eugenides traces the single chromosomal aberration as it works its way through the incestual relationships of Calliope's ancestry, coming to rest with his birth. However, the skill with which the author tells his story shows the protagonist's identity crisis is one that — despite our certain gender — we all face. In the end Jerry Springer would probably be disappointed in "Middlesex." The most shocking thing about the novel is how Calliope's condition isn't all that different from the human condition. — Francis W. Decker





Modern War

In June 1967, Israel faced off against the entire Arab world in "The Six Day War," a war that would radically alter the entire context of the Middle East and lead to many of the region's current problems in the West Bank. Never in modern history had a war so short had such consequence for the region and the world. Michael B. Oren captures all of the excitement of this time in "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," (Oxford University Press, $30), a book that includes copious details about the various battles while giving us an inside peak at the high-pressure decision-making process of Israel's leaders.

In what reads like a novel we see the central characters of the Israeli government convene in the Pit (Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's war room) as they debate whether to make a pre-emptive strike at Egyptian troops that are quickly remilitarizing the Sinai. Finally, Eshkol agrees that the danger to their state is too great; and the Israeli Air Force is unleashed. In a matter of hours, almost every plane in the Egyptian Air Force is destroyed, most of them on the ground. This humiliation is just a taste of the crushing defeats that Egypt, Syria and Jordan face in the next five days. By June 10, the Israeli Defense Forces have pushed Egyptian troops back to the Suez Canal, conquered the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. In doing so, they illustrated the capability of a modern army and established their preeminence in the region. For a book that is so filled with detail the narrative moves quickly. Using secret documents, Russian and Arabic papers, and the transcripts of high-level Israeli government discussions, Oren gives us an account of the war that is both thorough and compelling.

— John Toivonen

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