Synopses & Reviews
After her college-age son, Jeremy, nearly dies from an overdose of alcohol and pills, Helen Michaelson decides to take him and her terminally ill husband on a mission to Israel in the hopes that Jeremy will reconnect with his faith, but the family vacation soon takes some unexpected turns. Reader's Guide included. Reprint. 15,000 first printing.
The author of "The View from Stalin's Head" now offers a humorous and moving novel about an American family whose vacation to Jerusalem goes terribly awry.
About the Author
An acclaimed short-story writer has created a miraculous first novel about an American family on the verge of a breakdown-and an epiphany.
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 reconnect with his faith and find meaning in his life . . . or at least get rid of his nose ring.
Its not that Helen is concerned about Jeremys sexual orientation (after all, her other son is gay as well). Its merely the matter of the overdose (“Just like Liza!” Jeremy had told her), the green hair, and what looks like a safety pin stuck through his face. After therapy, unconditional love, and tough love . . . why not try Israel?
Yet in seductive and dangerous surroundings, with the rumbling of violence and change in the air, in a part of the world where “there are no modern times,” mother and son become new, old, and surprising versions of themselves.
Funny, erotic, searingly insightful, and profoundly moving, Faith for Beginners is a stunning debut novel from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think Helen Michaelson is always referred to as
“Mrs. Michaelson”? What does this suggest about her character
and her values?
2. Why do you think each chapter begins with a quote or anecdote?
What do they add to the story? Which was your favorite?
3. Do you think this is a political story? If yes, what do you think
the books political view is?
4. Faith for Beginners shows three sets of mothers and sons:
Jeremy and Helen, George and his mother, and Rabbi Rick and
Sherry. How do these relationships differ from one another?
Which do you think is the healthiest?
5. Have you ever been on a directed group tour of a foreign
country? Compare your experience with the Michaelsons experience
on their “Mission.” Do you prefer traveling by yourself
or in a group? Why?
6. Were you surprised by Rabbi Ricks relationship with Mrs.
Michaelson? How do you account for it? Do you think she
makes the right decision in the end?
7. What do you predict will happen to George after the books
8. One of the themes in Faith for Beginners is the difficulty of
communication. Trace this theme through the book and come
up with as many examples as you can of its impact on the characters.
Do these difficulties have resonance for you in your own
9. What is the significance of the books title? Who do you think
are the spiritual “beginners” in this book?
10. Late in the novel, Jeremy decides faith is something to do
rather than something to believe. Do you agree? Why or why
11. Though Hezekiah's water tunnel is a real place, its use in
the book recalls the metaphoric use of the Marabar Caves in
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster. Did you see the tunnel as
a metaphor and if so, for what? Why do you think Mrs. Michaelson
became so nervous there?
12. Which characters were the most sympathetic? Which did
you dislike most?
13. Aaron Hamburger says he overheard a couples exchange by
the Western Wall, similar to the one between Mr. Michaelson
and his wife at the end of the first chapter (when he asks her if
the trip has been a meaningful spiritual experience), and that
the conversation inspired the rest of the book. Why do you
think this small scene was the springboard for the book, and
why does Mrs. Michaelson have such a hard time answering the
14. Aaron Hamburger says the Middle Eastern conflict can be
seen in the food people eat and the water they drink. Take a
look at the food and water in the book. What does it suggest
about the people who make it and the people who eat it? What
do your own choices about food say about you?
15. Many people have commented on the frankness of the sex
scenes in the book. How did you feel about reading these scenes?
What did the sex scenes reveal about the characters who participated