An impressive debut about a young girl from a brilliant but eccentric family whose special talent earns her a place in the family and finally in the world.
Eliza Naumann has never really excelled at anything. In fact, she's always been rather ordinary—to the point where she seems pretty much to disappear amid the other members of her highly accomplished family. Her father Saul is a brilliant scholar, entirely dedicated to the study of Jewish mysticism. He has, in turn, poured all his hopes and dreams for spiritual enlightenment into his sensitive and thoughtful son Aaron, while his wife Miriam, though a lawyer, drifts off into an emotional haze, trying to put meaning into her existence by entering other people's empty houses and stealing small, seemingly insignificant items. Eliza remains invisible and at sea in the midst of this hyper-odd family—until her unknown talent for spelling is surprisingly unearthed. After having been more or less ignored for all of her nine years, she wins the attention of her schoolmates, teachers, and, most important, of her father, who responds not so much because of the acclaim Eliza is beginning to garner, but because he suddenly sees in her a disciple, someone who, through the use of letters, words, language, can be used as a conduit to God. Her broth Aaron, meanwhile, having always been the golden child but now left to his own devices, begins searching for enlightenment through other religions, eventually settling on Hare Krishna. And so, just as Eliza is finding her way in life, her family starts to unravel, fall away, and drift farther and farther apart.
Goldberg is a gifted writer, but her style—delivered in a detached, almost clinical prose that gives the feeling of fable or dream—holds the reader at a distance and keeps her characters from ever quite coming into the third dimension.