Book Review #54: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

4 Sep

This was the second book I read during my “trapped in Lima” experience and it was great.  On the surface, the book details Eliza’s rise from academically disappointing youngest child to a national spelling bee champion. As her spelling abilities increase, her father finally begins to take an interest in her, both academically, and as his daughter.  In doing so, he abandons Eliza’s brother Aaron, the former favorite, who finds himself jealous of his father’s affection for Eliza and lost without his guidance.

At a deeper level, this book chronicles how a family falls apart. There are the obvious elements, like the conflict between Eliza and Aaron has Eliza usurps Aaron’s place as the golden child. Or the slow decline of their mother and father’s sex life. But there’s something more subtle there also. Both their father, a feverish academic who seems disturbingly committed to his study of Jewish mysticism, and their mother, clearly suffering from OCD and a more severe mental illness than we first realize, are disconnected from reality. They are so singularly focused on their passions (mysticism, theft) that they forget everything else. And in forgetting everything else, they lose their children.

There’s also a heavy religious element in the book. Their father Saul ends up using Eliza’s talent for spelling to send her into the throes of Jewish mysticism, culminating in an a overpowering religious experience. And when Saul abandons Aaron, he turns away from the Judaism of his youth and towards Hare Krishna as a solution to both his religious questions and his lack of guidance. I found the religious elements of the book particularly fascinating.

Overall, worth a read for the family drama, spelling bee anecdotes and religious themes.

One Response to “Book Review #54: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg”


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Reviews #53 – #57 « Cannonball Read IV - September 4, 2012

    […] Review #54: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg. The story of a family falling apart as their youngest daughter achieves national fame as a spelling bee champion, with a heavy dose of Jewish mysticism and religious exploration. Full review.  […]

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