“Incense serves a variety of purposes in the Orthodox church. Symbolically, it’s an offering to God. Like the burnt sacrifices in pagan times, the fragrance drifts upward to heaven. Before the days of modern embalming, incense had a practical application. It covered the smell of corpses during funerals. It can also, when inhaled in sufficient amounts, create a lightheadedness that feels like religious reverie.”
(Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex)
It would be very false to think that Middlesex is about, well, something to do with sex. It is about that as well, but it’s also about Greeks in Asia Minor in Turkey in the 1920s, about Greeks in Detroit in the ’20s, ’30s, ’50s, ’60s . . . about what it means to be Greek and what it meant to be a Greek American in those times.
The advice goes that you should write about what you know best. Well, one’s culture would be so easy to write about, right? Not necessarily. I doubt many of us are conversant with our cultures to the extent shown by Jeffrey Eugenides in this book. He mixes what I imagine to be family history with anthopological observation and history. It’s a novel the way they used to be back when there weren’t sociologists and anthropologists, and when history was, for better or worse, less scientific and more literary.