Book One introduces several of the themes that will shape the course of the novel, including the conflict between choice and fate. Wrapped up in this discussion is the subject of genetics, clearly an important subject to the genetically mutated Cal. As Cal recounts the story of how his grandparents fell in love, he represents elements of both choice (Lefty's decision to walk away from his two courtship dates, the couple's intentionally fake courtship period on the ship to America) and fate (the game of rock, paper, scissors in which Lefty agrees not to marry the two other girls, the anonymity of their circumstances as refugees). While Cal seems hesitant to take a stand on whether the genetic mutation passes down because of choices or fate, he reframes the question. By attributing the survival of the gene to a hypothetical “override” within the gene that ensures its own survival, he combines the seemingly opposite choice and fate. The choice becomes the genes and, as neither Desdemona nor Lefty is aware of the gene nor can control it, their lives seem ruled by fate.
Another of the major themes introduced in the first book is the problem of gender. As an intersexual person, Cal is concerned both with the interplay of genders within himself and within society in general. Although Cal is the only intersex member of his family present within this narrative, Cal presents Desdemona as a masculine figure. Desdemona’s long, thick, heavy braids are erotic symbols of both traditional femininity and masculinity. As something she keeps hidden, the braids reflect feminine sexuality. As strong, thick, phallic symbols, however, they also give her “a natural power” (24). This power that Desdemona enjoys as the master of her own house in Greece is stunted in America when the ladies at the YWCA cut off her hair. In Greece, as Desdemona counts the Stephanides family worry beads, Cal writes that she comes in a long line of Stephanides men to do so, allying Desdemona with the