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.