This section contains 1,390 words
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When the narrative opens, Eliza Naumann is a fifth-grader at McKinley Elementary School. Eliza is a mediocre student who is unconvinced of her seeming mediocrity. Eliza does not have any close friends, but does not suffer as a result of this fact. Eliza spends a good deal of time watching re-runs on television and fantasizes that her life is, in fact, some sort of movie. Eliza's fantasies take the place of known realities and it is not until she wins the district spelling bee and sees a photograph of her family in a local newspaper that she realizes her family does not fit her internal picture.
Eliza is the daughter of Saul Naumann (a cantor) and Miriam Naumann (an attorney). She has an older brother, Aaron, whom she idolizes for a time. Eliza does not enjoy an especially close relationship with either of her parents, who are basically strangers to her. She is surprised and delighted at her father's offer to help her study, although she does her best to hide her enthusiasm from Saul, believing that it might cause Saul to change his mind.
Eliza's entire personal paradigm changes, however, with her discovery of the writings of Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia. Spelling, for Eliza, is the entry point into communion with God and the realization of a higher purpose.
Saul Naumann spends the first seventeen or so years of his life as Sal Newman, the son of an auto mechanic. When he first discovers his Jewish heritage at the age of thirteen, Sal changes his name back to Saul and goes in search of God—or at least in search of expanded thinking and alternate ways to view the world. Saul turns his back on his father and embarks on a lifelong journey toward transcendence. After extensive experiences with LSD in college, Saul becomes interested in Kaballah, a form of Jewish mysticism. Study for its own sake and the pursuit of knowledge are most important to Saul Naumann.
Saul is married to Miriam, an attorney. Theirs is a marriage of comfort and order. Saul is completely unaware that Miriam is a kleptomaniac. The Naumanns have two children, Aaron and Eliza (whom Saul refers to as "Elly-belly"). Saul, however, sacrifices deeper closeness with his family for his studies of the Torah and Kaballah. It is Saul who is closer to the children when they are younger, especially Aaron, with whom Saul plays and practices guitar. When she wins the district spelling bee, though, Saul notices something special about his daughter and decides that her path and his are intertwined. It is for this reason that Saul begins tutoring his daughter in the concepts and principles developed by Abraham Abulafia.
Miriam (Grossman) Naumann is Saul Naumann's wife and the mother of Eliza and Aaron. Miriam is an only child whose wealthy parents are both killed by an automobile while they are out for a walk. She is an obsessive-compulsive kleptomaniac and a rabid perfectionist who is unable to form deep attachments to other people. Miriam's most profound relationships are with objects. Miriam's external locus of control is solidified the first time she experiences "Perfectimundo." She views her kleptomania not as stealing, but as a way to bring together the missing parts of herself. Taking things that do not belong to her is Miriam's way of establishing order in the world. Her fragmentation prompts Miriam to steal and then arrange the stolen goods in a storage space, which she calls her kaleidoscope.
Miriam is not close to either of her children or to Saul, for that matter. She sees Aaron as Saul's son primarily and she is at a loss as to how to relate to Eliza. Much like the kaleidoscope that is revealed later in the narrative, Eliza "generally equates the inside of her mother's head with the grand finale of a July Fourth fireworks display" (p. 17). Miriam is extremely intelligent and extremely eccentric.
Aaron Naumann is the only son and oldest child of Miriam and Saul Naumann. For a time, Aaron fantasizes about becoming a rabbi. Aaron is highly intelligent, having been selected for the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program when he was Eliza's age. Aaron does not have close school friends and is bullied as a young child. Aaron and Eliza spend a good deal of time together before Aaron enters adolescence. Aaron does not know it, but he is Eliza's hero until she sees him being beaten up by a group of boys. Like his sister, Aaron Naumann entertains extensive fantasies. Aaron, however, daydreams about being popular, athletic, and talented.
Aaron Naumann, like his father, is a seeker. He prays diligently for God to reveal Himself. When his prayers are not answered, Aaron becomes disillusioned with his Jewish faith and he becomes interested in Krishna consciousness. When he begins spending time at the ISKCON temple, Aaron Naumann comes into his own as someone who is spiritually alive. While his attempts to explain Hare Krishna concepts to his father and sister fall flat, Aaron is convinced that Chali and the others at the ISKCON temple have found "the answer."
The only time Aaron Naumann ever sees his paternal grandfather, Heimel Naumann, his grandfather is lying in an open coffin.
Heimel Naumann (Henry Newman)
Heimel Naumann is born into a Jewish Orthodox family.
When Yehuda Naumann, Heimel's father, declares Heimel's fiancee Lisa as "not Jewish enough," Heimel and Lisa elope anyway (p. 10). Yehuda Naumann ignores the birth of his grandson, Saul (who becomes Sal), after which Heimel Naumann changes his name to Henry (Hank) Newman and turns his back on Judaism altogether. Hank works as an automobile mechanic and has hopes that Saul will follow in his footsteps. Saul is Hank and Lisa Newman's only child. "When Saul uses his student status to stay out of Vietnam, Henry officially washes his hands of his ungrateful, hippie Jew of a son" (p. 11).
Henry and Saul never resolve their differences.
Lisa Naumann (later, Newman) is the mother of Saul Naumann and the wife of the former Heimel Naumann. Lisa introduces Saul to Judaism when Saul is thirteen years old. It is Lisa who instills a sense of religious and ethnic pride in her son. Lisa sneaks Saul to synagogue to worship when her husband Hank is out of the house. Lisa Naumann dies of cancer when Saul is fifteen years old.
Chali, whose real name is John, is a devotee of ISKCON (Hare Krishna) and a close friend of Aaron Naumann. Chali meets Aaron while Aaron is sitting in a park one day and he invites Aaron to the ISKCON temple. In terms of the narrative, Chali is to Aaron what Saul Naumann is to Eliza. Chali is Aaron's guide and tutor. Chali represents mysticism, and the search for communion with a Supreme Being.
Sinna Bhagudori is one of the "smart girls" who attends McKinley Elementary School. Sinna is one of Eliza's competitors in the school spelling bee. Eventually, Sinna becomes a friend of sorts to Eliza Naumann. At the beginning of the narrative, Sinna is described as having "blue contact lenses and big boobs" (p. 7). Even though the other pupils at McKinley know that Sinna's eyes are not really blue, Sinna, who is obviously of East Asian descent, "insists that a lot of people's eyes change when they go through puberty" (p. 7).
Brad Fry is another of Eliza's competitors in the school spelling bee. Brad is also classified as one of the "smart kids." Brad is described as having "a lot of moles" (p. 7). Brad is somewhat geeky, as evidenced by his presence at a summer camp for "kids who take math and science classes because they want to" (p. 7). Even though Brad tells the other kids at McKinley that he actually goes to soccer camp, no one believes this.
Rabbi Mayer is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Amicha Synagogue. Mayer is a rather large man with a "broad forehead" and gray eyebrows. His eyes are quite small as if "to take in as little of the world as necessary" (p. 13). While Beth Amicha would not have been Mayer's first choice as a rabbinical assignment, Mayer made his choice based on the steady income offered by presiding over a suburban synagogue.
This section contains 1,390 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)