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Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
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Bee Season

by Myla Goldberg

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3,234811,715 (3.52)87
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    The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Both are novels about families dealing with issues and undergoing changes.
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    The Accidental by Ali Smith (sharlene_w)
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Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
A facinating study of a family of four, each trying to find the piece of themselves not provided by their lives, their family relationships, or their religion. I'm not sure eccentric is the term I'd use to describe them. Incredibly needy, perhaps. Untethered.

The heroine, Eliza, is a particularly engaging girl; the mother, conspicuous by her absence in the early story lines, achingly mad. The father Saul, who turned years ago from a background of hallucinogenic seeking, nevertheless tries for a God-invoked nirvana. And the brother Aaron becomes increasingly disengaged from the family as Saul turns from him to heap time, pride, love and expectations on Eliza.

A very worthwhile book, especially for a first work. ( )
1 vote wareagle78 | Feb 8, 2014 |
Compelling despite the unlikeliness of the plot. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Tedious.

Oh my goodness, I thought this book would never end. I was listening to the unabridged audiobook, narrated by the author, whose voice was soooo slow that the book took even longer than it needed to. I have a policy of giving one star if I abandon a book and two if I make it to the end, but I very nearly downgraded this to one star because the ending was such a flop. Nothing was resolved and Eliza's act at the end was so unbelievably annoying.

Eliza Nauman, at nine years old, is a mediocre student. So when she wins the class spelling bee and gains a place at the district finals, her father (Saul) abandons everything to coach her to success, and her older brother Aaron has to sacrifice his guitar sessions with his Dad.

There was a lot of obsession in this novel; Aaron's reaction to his father's neglect and Saul's wife's strange behaviour, as well as intensive study of words and their origins. I was really uninspired by the lengthy descriptions of the 'A-ness of A' and how an A felt to Eliza. Then there was the philosopher Abulafia and his strange ideas about words and their permutations. When Eliza sends herself into a trance I was completely lost, too weird.

So what did I enjoy about this novel? Well, not much, unfortunately, but I loved the collection that Eliza's mother made. I wished I could have seen it.

This book was not at all what I had expected - a lightweight coming of age novel with a spelling bent. Instead I got a tediously descriptive, drawn out philosophical and religious treatise. Not for me I'm afraid. ( )
  DubaiReader | Sep 11, 2013 |
Bee Season left me confused and slightly-swindled-feeling. The dissonance, I suppose, results from a certain wishing-to-have-cake-and-eat-it-too impression that I got. On the one hand, it seems to want to show how there are many paths toward personal and spiritual transcendence; on the other hand, it wants to be a miserable downer about familial dissolution. These things don't really go together, so Goldberg is forced to pull the cork just as everything goes to hell for everybody involved, cheating the reader out of any resolution from either the spiritual-journey or miserable-family angle.

The Naumann family, who all yearn for excuses to escape one another, finally get them when young daughter Eliza wins her school spelling bee. As a result, overbearing patriarch Saul decides to engage Eliza in hours-long one-on-one spelling sessions, using thousand-year-old hogwash for textbooks. Their evenings no longer taken up with being annoyed to death by Saul, mother Miriam and brother Aaron use their newly free time to follow their own rigidly parallel paths toward transcendence.

While Eliza rearranges words in her head a whole bunch in search of Enlightenment (the Jewish version of which, I guess, is called, shefa). Aaron joins Hare Krishna to take his mind off the constant swirlies he receives at school, and Miriam burgles her way to miraculous feats of interior decoration. Goldberg takes great care to make sure we notice just how similar these activities are to each other; Aaron's ceaseless chanting mirrors Eliza's meditative anagramming, and Miriam's sculpture just applies the same obsessive tendencies to found-object art. With brief interludes so that Saul can provide stock bad-father moments and drive his children and wife further up the wall, things proceed thusly until the end the novel, when everybody reaches their spiritual journey's climax on the exact same day. Because it's just more convenient that way, is why. All right?

Eliza has an intensely spiritual epileptic seizure which, it seems, we are supposed to believe has driven her over the edge into full-blown shefa. Aaron leaves home to pursue his dream of being a vegetarian chef at the temple, and Miriam is finally caught, bringing her eighteen-year klepto spree to an end. At this point, Goldberg seems to have written herself into a corner: if this thing is to really follow through on these characters' stories, it needs at least three hundred more pages of the characters acting almost completely independently of one another, which would break the family-drama mold that has been so faithfully clung to so far.

Plus, Goldberg has just changed her main character into a Kabbalah superhero, which is just kind of weird. Really? It just worked? She read the books and flipped around the letters and it worked. Can everybody do that? Can I level-up my letter-flipping skills till I reach shefa too? Sadly, the path to transcendence hasn't worked out so well for the other protagonists: Aaron appears to be on some sort of spiritual journey, but the last thing we see him do is pretty much give the finger to Dad as he drives away, which doesn't really sound like a great start on the road toward inner peace, and the last we know of Miriam is that she's cackling to herself in Arkham Asylum.

I'm wondering why things are supposed to have worked out so well for Eliza, but not for Aaron and Miriam. It seems like the whole point of the novel, up until the last ten pages, is that Eliza's, Aaron's, and Miriam's spiritual journeys are just different aspects of the very same crippling OCD. Ha ha, no, really though, Goldberg seems to be making a case for a Unitarianism of all religions, until she decides to just drop it and declare that nope, Abulafia really had it right all along. The Eliza-superhero cannot be reconciled with the thrust of the entire rest of the novel. It just doesn't make any sense.

I feel that Goldberg, in trying to wrap up the mess her book had become, followed a similar path as I take when trying to wrap Christmas gifts. At first, I proceed carefully, measuring the paper to match the dimensions of the gift. As I proceed, though, I find I have made some miscalculation, and having no more paper to try again with, attempt to cheat to make everything fit together nicely. Finally, though, I am forced to admit to myself that this whole wrapping thing just hasn't gone according to plan, and I take big swaths of duct tape and press them over the more egregiously horrible spots, and I brace myself for the derisive laughter of my relatives. Bee Season is that hastily-wrapped-up, not-quite-all-together gift.

But overall, it didn't suck too bad. ( )
  _________jt_________ | Jul 14, 2013 |
I listened to the audiobook version, and I was glad to hear the story in the author's own voice--it added a lot. My favorite part of the book was the Eliza's run to the National Spelling Bee. Beyond that, the dysfunctions of various members of the family loomed so large that it became a bit draining to finish the audiobook. If you're looking for an uplifting book about a child's spelling success, this one isn't it. Still, the book was very thought-provoking. ( )
  dukefan86 | May 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Myla Goldberg's first novel, ''Bee Season,'' is a dispassionate, fervidly intelligent book -- she explores class, linguistics and religious extremism with the confidence of a born essayist -- that comes by its emotion honestly.
 
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Epigraph
The world of letters is the true world of bliss.

-- ABRAHAM ABULAFIA (1240 - c. 1292)
Are you really proud of me?

-- REBECCA SEALFON, 1997 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE CHAMPION
Dedication
For my family
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At precisely 11 A.M. every teacher in every classroom at McKinley Elementary School tells their students to stand.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385498802, Paperback)

In Myla Goldberg's outstanding first novel, a family is shaken apart by a small but unexpected shift in the prospects of one of its members. When 9-year-old Eliza Naumann, an otherwise indifferent student, takes first prize in her school spelling bee, it is as if rays of light have begun to emanate from her head. Teachers regard her with a new fondness; the studious girls begin to save a place for her at lunch. Even Eliza can sense herself changing. She had "often felt that her outsides were too dull for her insides, that deep within her there was something better than what everyone else could see."

Eliza's father, Saul, a scholar and cantor, had long since given up expecting sparks of brilliance on her part. While her brother, Aaron, had taken pride in reciting his Bar Mitzvah prayers from memory, she had typically preferred television reruns to homework or reading. This belated evidence of a miraculous talent encourages Saul to reassess his daughter. And after she wins the statewide bee, he begins tutoring her for the national competition, devoting to Eliza the hours he once spent with Aaron. His daughter flowers under his care, eventually coming to look at life "in alphabetical terms." "Consonants are the camels of language," she realizes, "proudly carrying their lingual loads."

Vowels, however, are a different species, the fish that flash and glisten in the watery depths. Vowels are elastic and inconstant, fickle and unfaithful.... Before the bee, Eliza had been a consonant, slow and unsurprising. With her bee success, she has entered vowelhood.
When Saul sees the state of transcendence that she effortlessly achieves in competition, he encourages his daughter to explore the mystical states that have eluded him--the influx of God-knowledge (shefa) described by the Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia. Although Saul has little idea what he has set in motion, "even the sound of Abulafia's name sets off music in her head. A-bu-la-fi-a. It's magic, the open sesame that unblocked the path to her father and then to language itself."

Meanwhile, stunned by his father's defection, Aaron begins a troubling religious quest. Eliza's brainy, compulsive mother is also unmoored by her success. The spelling champion's newfound gift for concentration reminds Miriam of herself as a girl, and she feels a pang for not having seen her daughter more clearly before. But Eliza's clumsy response to Miriam's overtures convinces her mother that she has no real ties to her daughter. This final disappointment precipitates her departure into a stunning secret life. The reader is left wondering what would have happened if the Naumanns' spiritual thirsts had not been set in restless motion. A poignant and exceptionally well crafted tale, Bee Season has a slow beginning but a tour-de-force conclusion. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:27 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The bestselling, critically acclaimed debut novel about an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent for spelling. Annotation. Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidactic father, Saul, absorbed in his study of Jewish mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer-mom, Miriam. But when Eliza sweeps her school and district spelling bees in quick succession, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual fulfillment. When Miriam's secret life triggers a familial explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos. Myla Goldberg's keen eye for detail brings Eliza's journey to three-dimensional life. As she rises from classroom obscurity to the blinding lights and outsized expectations of the National Bee, Eliza's small pains and large joys are finely wrought and deeply felt. Not merely a coming-of-age story, Goldberg's first novel delicately examines the unraveling fabric of one family. The outcome of this tale is as startling and unconventional as her prose, which wields its metaphors sharply and rings with maturity. The work of a lyrical and gifted storyteller, Bee Season marks the arrival of an extraordinarily talented new writer.… (more)

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