Bee Season: A Novel

by Myla Goldberg

Paperback, 2001

Call number




Anchor (2001), Edition: Reissue, 275 pages


Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidact 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)

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member StoutHearted
This story about how a Philadelphia suburban dysfunctional family's individual search for God consumes them around the time the youngest member's previously dormant talents start to shine and make her a spelling bee star.
The champion speller is Eliza, who was previously categorized as unremarkable
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and was an unspoken embarrassment by her more illustrious family members. When she starts winning spelling bees, her father, Saul, finally takes notice of her and she replaces his eldest son with his time and concentration.

Saul gave up the swinging bachelor life for the idealized life of a Jewish scholar, getting married to attain a quiet study and a life partner that would help him concentrate and learn how to speak to God. The best he could do was attain the position of cantor, but in Eliza he sees the potential to speak to God through the way she has a kinship with the alphabet. Previously, his son Aaron, who was a wunderkind with Hebrew prayers and wanted to be a rabbi, was supposed to lead Saul to God. However, Aaron is ignored by Saul until he realizes that the divide between them is too wide, and it is too late.

When time with his father is cut off and discouraged, Aaron looks for God elsewhere than his father's study. He tries out different religions until one fits and changes his whole way of life to the point he can no longer comfortably live at home.

Meanwhile, his mother Miriam, who always had OCD-like tendencies to scrub and clean into the wee hours searches for God through perfection, or the word she prefers: "Perfectimundo." Yet her quest for perfection is hardly harmless as she is driven to steal from stores and houses in her quest to find the one object that will make her perfect. This obsession since childhood sends her down a spiral of lies and shatters her family.

The family's failure to communicate with one another is their downfall: They are so obsessed with their own personal journeys to find God, that they are strangers to one another. Their ways of trying to reach God is oftentimes fierce, and Goldberg shines in the surreal descriptions of their hallucinations. It is easy to get caught up in the Naumanns' lives, as very personal things are revealed about them so that even in their most dysfunctional moments, we feel for them. Saul is less sympathetic because his obliviousness has made his children social outcasts, but when it all comes crashing down upon him, Goldberg can make us feel his desperation and sudden realization of his action's consequences.

This is a great character study, but can be disturbing at times. Things like Miriam's decent into madness and Saul's treatment of his least-favored child of the moment can make you want to shake these people. Other scenes overwhelm , like Eliza's mystical spelling hallucinations as they get more and more intense.

An interesting book on the whole, but I don't know if I would read it again, as it is emotionally draining. I think those interested in Jewish mysticism would enjoy this best.
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LibraryThing member quirkylibrarian
Unfinished as of this review and don't know if I can bring myself to spend any more time with this cast of unlikable and fairly uninteresting characters. While each person displays elements of the curiosities of human nature (Miriam steals, Aaron seeks religious truth) the pacing is stodgy and in
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168 pages Goldberg hasn't given me, the reader, any reason to care what happens to any of them.
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LibraryThing member cinesnail88
This was another one of my whimsy books - I go to buy a book in the bookstore, and then choose another random one from the same shelf. This one turned out to be another wise choice. I know I was supposed to be concentrating on the main character (Eliza Naumann) through her spelling bee adventures.
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And that's what I was doing through the first half of the book. But after the her first National Bee competition, I became increasingly drawn to her mother Miriam and her brother Aaron. By the end of the novel all I wanted to know was the status of those characters. Strange - but definitely enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member wareagle78
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. With Zmrzlina, I'm not sure eccentric is the term I'd use to describe them. Incredibly needy, perhaps. Untethered.

The heroine, Eliza, is a
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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.
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LibraryThing member christinejoseph
Excellent many things converge at end — hidden life totally possible.

Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidact father, Saul, absorbed in his study of Jewish mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual
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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.
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LibraryThing member lenoreva
Eliza's journey from the "dumb class" to spelling bee champ is really compelling. But subplots concerning her brother's experimentation with the Hare Krishna religion, her mother's kleptomania and her father's obsession with jewish mysticism fall flat.
LibraryThing member Djupstrom
I did not like this one bit.
LibraryThing member Cygnus555
After hearing Myla's interview on NPR about "Wickett's Remedy" I hurried out and bought it... and the Bee Season. I love first novels and so I had to read Bee Season first.

I can't say enough about this book. Beautiful, Brilliant. Captivating and interesting. Could not wait for the movie and
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enjoyed it very much (although not as much...). I loved her sentences... "Like many things left unsaid, Eliza's thoughts have metastasized, kernels of doubt exploding into deadly certainties." wow
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LibraryThing member piefuchs
Quick and meaningless read. I found the family one dimensional and plot contrived. Quality of writing was ok and I assume the reason this book was so popular...
LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
I hated this book but finished it anyway. Full of Jewish mysticism.
LibraryThing member GMac
An ordinary girl with an exceptional gift for spelling, young Eliza Naumann embarks on the rough-and-tumble "spelling bee" circuit, where her quirky family will collide with the harsh realities of life.
LibraryThing member theageofsilt
I found this book mesmerizing. The main character, a young girl seeking to win her father's approval by becoming a spelling champion is completely credible. The conflict between the devoutly Jewish father and his son who turns to the Hare Krishnas is a gripping study of the chauvanism of mysticism.
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The spiritual trappings of the mother's mental illness is also gripping.
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LibraryThing member nch05
I didn't read this book but instead I listened to it. I think that I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read it instead because the visual distraction of listening allows one's mind to wander. Also, it took much longer to complete because the narrator spoke much slower than I would have read.
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The voices however did give this book a different feel from books that I have read on my own because they do not take my tone but that of the author/reader.
I especially liked this book because it taught me a little bit about the Hare Krishna, who I was always been interested in.
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LibraryThing member WittyreaderLI
Goldberg's Bee Season contains your typical dysfunctional family: a klepto wife, a religious father, a wayward son and a daughter who develops a talent for spelling. Good read!
LibraryThing member LisaLynne
I'll admit that the deciding factor in buying this book was the photo of the author, Myla Goldberg, on the back cover. I took one look at her big glasses, clunky shoes and Pippi Longstocking tights and thought, "oh, I definitely want to read what she has to say!" And I was not disappointed.

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has never been the standout in her family. Her mother is a successful lawyer, her brother is a prodigy and her father is fully invested in making sure her brother becomes a rabbi. Eliza is in the class for slow learners and no one expects much of her. When she wins the school spelling bee, she doesn't even bother to tell anyone.

As Eliza racks up more spelling bee wins, the balance in the family begins to change and everyone must reevaluate their role. Her brother certainly begins to re-think his plan to become a rabbi. His father shifts his focus entirely onto his suddenly-brilliant daughter. And is so often the case, the biggest changes in the family come from out of left field, as Miriam's secrets cause the family to remake itself yet again.
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LibraryThing member courtneygood
Interesting Reading. I thought all the characters were very well developed (and unique!)
LibraryThing member kolbseder
My favorite book. A quirky novel with a number of surprises. Incidentally, I helped host Myla Goldberg at a book event and thought she was delightful.
LibraryThing member hemingwayok
The story is heartbreaking and magnificent! It is about finding wholeness and a personal sense of being. I could absolutely relate to each one of the characters. By the book's end, I was left wondering what was next for this poor, broken family. Will Eliza be able to save them all? I guess the
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point is that to save, we must sacrifice a piece of ourselves. By losing the Bee, Eliza aids in the breakdown of the empty search for truth each member of her family is on.
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LibraryThing member magst
This was not an easy read for me, and I would not suggest it to those looking for a beach read or brain candy. This is a book that takes all your concentration, and one you will not want to put down.
LibraryThing member kaulsu
A book describing in exquisitely painful detail the pressures families put on its members, generation to generation. The answer to the labyrinth is never a simple one nor is it one most can receive from their parents. But in rare cases, sometimes the children unlock the key for themselves.
LibraryThing member Brianna_H
This is one of my favorite books. There is something magical about this story. Reading it brought back feelings of what it was like to be a child again. It is also a great book to read if you love books and language.
LibraryThing member allysther
I can not imagine this as a movie. Way too many thoughts/feelings/actions, and a huge span of time.

I enjoyed the book, and was pleased with the writing style. Tension between the family members built nicely, and the ending was more than I expected.
LibraryThing member thinkpinkDana
Of Myla Goldberg's style I can merely say "Brilliant" and "Beautiful." Ms. Goldberg takes something as mundane and dry as spelling and makes it into a work of art. It becomes an internal symphony of the soul when seen through the eyes of Eliza:

"When Eliza studies, she travels through space and
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time. In COUCOUS she can sense desert and sand smoothed stone. In CYPRESS, she tastes salt and wind. She visits Africa, Greece, and France. Each word has a story; a Viking birth, a journey across the sea, the exchange from mouth to mouth, from border to border until aepli is appel is APPLE crisp and sweet on Eliza's tongue. When it is night and their studying is complete, these are the words she rides into sleep. The voice of the dictionary is the voice of her dreams"

But apart from the story of Eliza and her gift is the story of her family. While I am not one to desire a rainbows and sunshine ending, I had hoped to see some chance of redemption for the members of Eliza's family. However the end of the story leaves the reader with no more hope that any member of the family, with the exception of Eliza, has become less self absorbed than they were in the beginning.

I would like to say that I didn't like the book because I couldn't relate to the family, however three weeks later, I am still thinking about the book and trying to define my feelings regarding it. In my mind, that makes it a book worthy of reading.
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LibraryThing member ThatsFresh
I hated this book. Sorry, but I did. I picked to read it for a summer reading assignment, and soon regretted it. For a long time is follows you’re typical Spelling Bee plotline, and seldom derives from it. The subplot about the son who joins some cult is more annoying than interesting. And I
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couldn’t care less about the parent’s failing marriage. And can someone explain to me why I’m supposed to enjoy a story about some girl finding God in words and how I’m even supposed to believe that by reading all these books she transcends to some magical lever of higher being?
The only part of the book I liked was the story of the mother, who has a mental disorder and is compelled to steal things. I actually found this very interesting to read about and find her journey the most enjoyable.
But besides that, there’s really no point to reading this book. Don’t waste your time.
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LibraryThing member melwil_2006
This was one of the most suprising reads I have ever come across. What looked like a book about a previously undistiguished girl who rises to the high reaches of the National Spelling Bee, and the family around her; turned out to be a book about Jewish Mysticism, Hare Krisnas, kleptomania,
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responsibilities to parents and children and the notion of perfectomundo.

Eliza Naumann is the odd one out in her family. Her father is a scholar and cantor at the local temple, her mother a brilliant lawyer and her brother was identified early for the Talented and Gifted program. In second grade Eliza is passed over for the TAG program by the classics educated teacher who fancies herself as working for the Fates. But in fourth grade she wins her class spelling bee, followed by the school bee, setting forth a series of events that will tear her family apart.

The book is written in a light manner, despite the heavy material, making it easy to rip through. It slips easily from one point of view to another, and back again. My only quibble is that occasionally it is difficult to tell if an event has happened in the past or present as the book is written all in present tense. The ending left me gobsmacked - I literally yelled out.

If you haven't read this book I suggest that you try to find it. Apparently it's been turned into a movie, which I'll be interested to see.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2002)
National Jewish Book Award (Finalist — Fiction — 2000)
Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Adult Fiction — 2001)
PEN/Hemingway Award (Nominee — Honorable Mention - 2001)
Young Lions Fiction Award (Finalist — 2001)




0385498802 / 9780385498807
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