Faith for Begin­ners: A Novel

Aaron Ham­burg­er
  • Review
By – May 25, 2012

Dur­ing the peace­ful sum­mer of 2000, Mrs. Michael­son, a col­or­ful and flam­boy­ant woman, decides to take one of her two gay sons and her hus­band on a pack­age tour of Israel in an attempt to help them recon­nect with their Jew­ish roots. Mr. Michael­son, who is ter­mi­nal­ly ill with can­cer and prefers his soli­tude to the dynam­ic social life of his wife, agrees to embark on this jour­ney with their trou­bled son, Jere­my, who recent­ly sur­vived an over­dose of drugs and is strug­gling with his family’s accep­tance of his sex­u­al­i­ty. After Mr. Michael­son returns to Amer­i­ca, Mrs. Michael­son has a spir­i­tu­al and sex­u­al encounter with a rab­bi from the tour, and Jere­my, while meet­ing with a reli­gious Jew, ends up meet­ing a deaf Pales­tin­ian man in the park with whom he devel­ops an intense­ly per­son­al and sex­u­al rela­tion­ship. The pack­age tour proves to be an eye-open­ing adven­ture for the Michael­sons as they explore their inner selves in the con­text of Israel, a land which often entan­gles them inside the lives and hearts of oth­ers, but ulti­mate­ly allows them to dis­cov­er and uncov­er their own deep­er selves. Mrs. Michael­son is forced to face the ways in which her hus­band, sons, reli­gion, home and social posi­tion had all failed her in one way or another. 

Ham­burg­er is com­fort­able writ­ing about raw emo­tion as he tack­les some of life’s most com­plex issues, includ­ing fam­i­ly, love, ill­ness, expec­ta­tion, and death. Faith for Begin­ners is an enchant­i­ng nov­el, brim­ming with insights and sur­pris­es. An enjoy­able read and com­pelling first novel. 

Bar­bara S. Cohen is a tri­al attor­ney in Los Ange­les who spe­cial­izes in child abuse cas­es. She is a mem­ber of NAMI and a sup­port­er of NARSAD, and is an advo­cate for those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

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