Faith for beginners : a novel /

"In the summer of 2000, Israel teeters between total war and total peace. Similarly on edge, Helen Michaelson, a respectable suburban housewife from Michigan, has brought her ailing husband and rebellious college-age son, Jeremy, to Jerusalem. She hopes the journey will inspire Jeremy to reconn...

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Main Author: Hamburger, Aaron.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Random House, ©2005.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A woman hopes a family trip to Israel will help her reclaim her confused, rebellious son in Hamburger's entertaining, irreverent first novel (after the collection The View from Stalin's Head). Jeremy's been at NYU for five years, but he's still just a junior, and Helen Michaelson, 58, thinks he might have a much-needed spiritual awakening on the "Michigan Miracle 2000" tour. But while Jeremy's more interested in cruising Jerusalem's gay parks, Helen herself is primed for revelation, as she finds that her connection to Judaism and her family is more complicated than she'd thought. Hamburger has an exacting eye for mundane detail and suburban conventions, and in Jeremy he's created the classic green-haired, pierced college student ranting about social injustice. But beneath Jeremy's sarcastic, moralizing banter, there's a convincing critique of Americans' way of being in the world. In Israel in 2000, the Michaelsons are like Pixar creations trapped in a movie filmed in Super 8-the Middle East may be fraught with political tension, but their biggest problem is the heat outside their air-conditioned bus. Hamburger goes further than witty satire, though, and when the plot takes a dark turn he demonstrates that he's capable of taking on global issues, even if his characters aren't. Agent, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An American Jewish family's pilgrimage to Jerusalem is the subject of this debut novel from Hamburger (The View from Stalin's Head, stories, 2004). When 22-year-old underachiever Jeremy Michaelson almost dies of a drug overdose, pragmatic matron Helen shepherds him and her terminally ill husband David (a retired psychoanalyst) onto a tour ("Michigan Miracle 2000") that arrives in Haifa during a punishing heat wave. While Jeremy, happily gay and ever on the prowl, checks out a "cute Hasid" and gets harassed by "handsome, snickering Arab bullies," Helen searches the World of her Fathers for inspiration, guidance and an understanding of why she and David have produced two gay sons (her elder, unlike reckless Jeremy, is a respected professional secure in a long-term relationship). The novel thus splits into two halves. We follow Jeremy as he attends a rowdy Shabbat dinner hosted by an Orthodox acquaintance, courts a shy, closeted yeshiva student, flashes his Western liberal's credentials in social situations that cry out for reticence, then undertakes a whirlwind affair with a deaf Palestinian kindergarten teacher (which puts the latter in very real danger). Meanwhile, Helen attracts the initially unwelcome attentions of sexy Rabbi Sherman, stumbles through a meeting with Shimon Peres at a public reception and experiences a moment of mingled enlightenment and further confusion in an underground cave (Jerusalem tourist attraction Hezekiah's Tunnel)--in a lame echo of the Marabar Caves incident in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. Hamburger strives mightily for variety, introducing chapters with excerpts from Jewish history or doctrine ("Faith for Beginners," as it were), and focusing briefly on the moribund David, as he resigns himself to his fate and returns home early. As Helen, Jeremy and their varied instructors all learn, "No one ever said it was easy to be a Jew. . . ." Thoughtful, but too long and attenuated. At this stage of Hamburger's career, his short stories are better. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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