Friday, November 19, 2010
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
I am not sure I would recommend this book because it is so disturbing, so disconcerting. I was horrified and saddened by much of the family dynamics but I could not stop reading it - I wanted to find out what happened next, how does it all end? She is a wonderful writer and I liked how she structured the book, weaving each family members story together.
Here's are what some of the reviewers thought:
From Publishers Weekly
An eccentric family falls apart at the seams in an absorbing debut that finds congruencies between the elementary school spelling-bee circuit, Jewish mysticism, Eastern religious cults and compulsive behavior. Nine-year-old Eliza Naumann feels like the dullest resident of a house full of intellectuals--her older brother, Aaron, is an overachiever; her mother, Miriam, is a lawyer; and her father, Saul, is a self-taught scholar and a cantor at the community synagogue. She surprises herself and the rest of the Naumanns when she discovers a rare aptitude for spelling, winning her school and district bees with a surreal surge of mystical insight, in which letters seem to take on a life of their own. Saul shifts his focus from Aaron to Eliza, devoting his afternoons to their practice sessions, while neglected Aaron joins the Hare Krishnas. Seduced by his own inner longings, Saul sees in Eliza the potential to fulfill the teachings of the Kabbalah scholar Abulafia, who taught that enlightenment could be reached through strategic alignments of letters and words. Eliza takes to this new discipline with a desperate, single-minded focus. At the same time, her brilliant but removed mother succumbs to a longtime secret vice and begins a descent into madness. Goldberg's insights into religious devotion, guilt, love, obsessive personalities and family dynamics ring true, and her use of spelling-as-metaphor makes a clever trope in a novel populated by literate scholars and voracious readers. Her quiet wit, balanced by an empathetic understanding of human foibles, animates every page. Although she has a tendency to overexplain, Goldberg's attentive ear makes accounts of fast-paced spelling competitions or descriptions of Miriam's struggles to resist her own compulsions riveting, and her unerring knack for telling details (as when Eliza twitches through a spelling bee in itchy tights) captures a child's perceptions with touching acuity. While coming-of-age stories all bear a certain similarity, Goldberg strikes new ground here, and displays a fresh, distinctive and totally winning voice. (June)
There is so much pain in this powerful first novel about a family's unraveling that it often seems on the edge of unbearable. And yet, as we watch nine-year-old Eliza Naumann transform herself from underachiever to spelling prodigy, we endure the pain out of respect for one girl's courage and all-consuming love. Eliza's family is gradually breaking down in front of her: father Saul, whose self-absorbed passion for Jewish mysticism blinds him to the suffering of those closest to him; mother Myriam, whose quest for perfection leads her into kleptomania; and brother Aaron, who rebels against his faith and turns to Hare Krishna. Eliza attempts to put her family back together by an act of will, spelling her way to harmony, with an assist from her father's Kabbalah masters. Goldberg effectively mixes fascinating detail about spelling bees with metaphorical leaps of imagination, producing a novel that works on many levels. There is something of Holden Caulfield in Eliza, the same crazed determination to save her loved ones from themselves. An impressive debut from a remarkably talented writer. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.