The Great Believers
A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed and award-winning author Rebecca MakkaiIn 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico's funeral, he finds his partner is infected, and that he might even have the virus himself. The only person he has left is Fiona, Nico's little sister.Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS crisis affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona's stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster.

The Great Believers Details

TitleThe Great Believers
Author
ReleaseJun 19th, 2018
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780735223523
Rating
GenreFiction, Lgbt, Historical, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Literature, Relationships

The Great Believers Review

  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 The story opens with the death of a young gay man, named Nico. Disowned by this family for his sexual preference, that is all but his younger sister, Fiona, who is with him until the end. This is her introduction into the gay community, a community that will embrace her as she embraces them. It is the eighties in Chicago, Boys town and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing. We meet many of these young men, so many whose families have cut them loose. See their fear, their sorrow as more die, or 4.5 The story opens with the death of a young gay man, named Nico. Disowned by this family for his sexual preference, that is all but his younger sister, Fiona, who is with him until the end. This is her introduction into the gay community, a community that will embrace her as she embraces them. It is the eighties in Chicago, Boys town and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing. We meet many of these young men, so many whose families have cut them loose. See their fear, their sorrow as more die, or find out they have the virus. Fiona, is with many of them, caring for them when they cannot care for themselves. I can't imagine watching everyone you love die, and we see how this affects Fiona in her life a dual story line with the second in 2015 as Fiona searches for her own grown daughter. She finds Richard, a photographer, a survivor from the eighties, and there will be another to survive, a total surprise.. Reminded me a little of A Little Life, the scope, the friends, losing so much. Maybe because it was set in Chicago, all places I've been, so could imagine this story visually.Belmont Rocks, Lincoln Park and the zoo, Halsted, and Ann Sathers restaurant, one of my favorites in the city. In the Seventies, I hung in Old Town with a group of friends, two were gay, a couple, Jimmy and Max, they were wonderful, don't know what happened to them. I got married, had children, lost touch. I loved this novel, could fully embrace and connect with the story, a story that takes the reader fully into this time period. The political ramifications of a government that was totally unconcerned, a public that turned their heads since this only affected gays, which proved not to be true. The insurance companies, and the way they fought not to pay claims, citing preexisting conditions, so that many died in Cook County hospital. Families, who cut their children off, many never speaking to them again. We see the other side too, friends banding together, trying to be there for those who had nobody. A mother who stays with her son through this terrible time. So many of these characters we come to know intimately, especially Yale, who is our narrator along with Fiona. Their is a secondary plot in the eighties that concerns Fiona's aunt and some valuable artwork. It was a little drawn out but it does tie into the story and is something Yale is determined to complete. Yale's sees it as a honor to a love that never stopped. Northwestern and DePaul, places Yale works, DePaul a school my youngest daughter graduated from, know it well.In the present Richard and his photographic exhibit will bring the novel full circle, giving the many who had died, once again a voice. Merging the past with the present. This was Angela, Esil and my read for March. I liked this one more than they, found it both profound, touching and a story that needed to be told.ARC from Edelweiss.
    more
  • Angela M
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Believers 3.5 stars rounded up 1980s Chicago, the devastating AIDS epidemic seen through the eyes of a group of gay friends as they slowly lose so many in their circle of friends, reflects the time in a realistic way . Fiona who has lost her loving brother and many of their friends over the years travels in to Paris in 2015, connecting with Richard an old friend from those times, as she searches for her daughter and the grandchild she has not met. The chapters alternate between these t The Great Believers 3.5 stars rounded up 1980s Chicago, the devastating AIDS epidemic seen through the eyes of a group of gay friends as they slowly lose so many in their circle of friends, reflects the time in a realistic way . Fiona who has lost her loving brother and many of their friends over the years travels in to Paris in 2015, connecting with Richard an old friend from those times, as she searches for her daughter and the grandchild she has not met. The chapters alternate between these two time periods and these two places and it was good to have the connection of some of the same people so moving from one time to another felt seamless in ways.This is an important story depicting the devastation of the Aids epidemic, but there were so many times when I felt that the story dragged on, was too long, that I was not as captivated as I hoped I would be. While I was definitely moved by the 1980s sections in the first half of the book, there were too many characters and I found it difficult to connect. However, the last quarter of the book really changed my overall feelings about the story. It was in these last chapters when we see the intimate thoughts and profound affect on one of the characters, Yale, that I became much more connected emotionally. The awfulness of the physical symptoms and the emotional toll were heartbreaking and Yale is a character that I felt I came to know in a much deeper way than others . In the 2015 ending chapters, Richard’s photographic show brought the two time frames together full circle in a perfect way. Again I think it’s an important story to tell and an important one to be read. For that and the last part of the book I’ll round up to 4 stars.I read this with with Diane and Esil. Diane loved it most , I think, and had a special connection since she is from Chicago. I received an advanced copy of this book from Viking through Edelweiss.
    more
  • Rebecca Makkai
    January 1, 1970
    Only giving this five stars because I'm married to the author's husband.
  • Esil
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 starsI really loved the themes running through The Great Believers, but I was a little less enthusiastic about the delivery.The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline runs from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and it is focused on a group of characters affected by the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. The story is told from Yale’s perspective, who is seeing many of his friends getting sick and dying. Much of his story focuses on the breakdown of his relationship and an art show that he is 3.5 starsI really loved the themes running through The Great Believers, but I was a little less enthusiastic about the delivery.The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline runs from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and it is focused on a group of characters affected by the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. The story is told from Yale’s perspective, who is seeing many of his friends getting sick and dying. Much of his story focuses on the breakdown of his relationship and an art show that he is trying to put together. The second storyline focuses on Fiona, who is the sister of one of Yale’s friends, as she searches for her missing daughter in Paris.It was no until the end that I fully understood how the two storylines fit together both thematically and as stories. When I understood the link, it was a bit of an “aha” moment, but up to that point I often felt like this book was draggy and going in too many directions.Again, I loved the themes. There is much to be written and told about the devastation caused by AIDS in so many communities of gay men — emotionally, socially and politically. Ultimately, running through the book is a suggestion that the trauma of war is a good analogy. Many died, but survivors — including caretakers — suffered devastating trauma. I just wish the delivery in this book was crisper and less meandering.This was a monthly buddy read with Diane and Angela. As always, many thanks for their helpful and different perspectives. And thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
    more
  • switterbug (Betsey)
    January 1, 1970
    When my best friend, Wade, died of complications of the AIDS virus in 1992, I was devastated and broken. If it weren’t for my fiancé (now husband), I may have spiraled into a dark, depressing space for a long time. Makkai’s book brought it all back to me—the despair, the secrets, and the shame that was forced upon my friend from the virus and the politics of the time. Even though the locale (Chicago/Paris) in Makkai’s novel is different than my own, and the plot of course sprang from the depth o When my best friend, Wade, died of complications of the AIDS virus in 1992, I was devastated and broken. If it weren’t for my fiancé (now husband), I may have spiraled into a dark, depressing space for a long time. Makkai’s book brought it all back to me—the despair, the secrets, and the shame that was forced upon my friend from the virus and the politics of the time. Even though the locale (Chicago/Paris) in Makkai’s novel is different than my own, and the plot of course sprang from the depth of her imagination, she captured the emotions and momentum of the time so well that I often twinned with the author’s story. Character-driven, theme-driven, and generous of spirit, The Great Believers is a fully realized work of art.The novel threads two timelines—the 80s/90s AIDS epidemic era and 2015. We follow Fiona in both timelines, first a heartsick nineteen-year-old sister in the 80s and subsequently a mother estranged from her adult daughter in 2015. She never stopped grieving for her brother, Nico, for his untimely death from AIDS in 1985. The effect it had on her, while she stood by all who came after-- Nico’s boyfriend and friends and friends of friends who succumbed, left her so consumed and damaged that she never felt whole again. She couldn’t sustain a marriage, and motherhood was fraught with mistakes. In the 1980s, Yale, a development director of an art gallery, is about to pull off the collection of his dreams, just as he finds out his boyfriend has cheated on him and is carrying the virus, which now means possible doom for Yale, too. He decides to focus on his work to escape his pain. Nora, the elderly woman donating the 1920s pieces, seems a far cry from Yale and his personal problems, yet her romantic nature and story of loss—all her friends that died or disappeared in Europe during the Great War—resonates to the monumental losses of people dying from the virus. The urgency and sorrow are wrapped up in the wreckage. Many during the war were ravaged, sick from the flu epidemic, dead, or grieving alone. And in the era of AIDS, as Nora says, “I don’t know how you can compare it to anything else…I don’t know how it’s like anything other than war!” And Nora still hasn’t gotten over her great love, Ranko, an obscure artist who painted some of the pieces that she is about to offer. He died over sixty years ago, but he’s alive in her heart. She trusts Yale to preserve and display her collection.Fiona, on a tip, flies from Chicago to Paris to hopefully find her daughter, Claire, who she suspects now has a daughter of her own. So many years of embittered anguish--the misunderstandings, mischaracterized actions, conflicts, have damaged them both. Fiona’s inability to recover from Nico’s death left her heart torn, like Nora’s when Ranko died. As one character says, when asked if love vanishes, “I think that’s the saddest thing in the world, the failure of love. Not hatred, but the failure of love.”The Great Believers delivers a sprawling cast of characters. The majority of them—even secondary and tertiary characters, have singular features that give them dimension. The past informs the present and quietly, through love, memories, and friendship, they open a window to redemption. And art. Makkai has a knack for penning each book so differently, and yet her theme of redemption through art is a bright beam that radiates like an eternal flame of hope and healing. Read it and weep!
    more
  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    In a weird way, I feel that this is the sweeping gay masterpiece that A Little Life should’ve been. It’s a nice long read about a close-knit group of gay friends and their straight allies that jumps back and forth between the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and present day Paris. Makkai does a pretty clever thing here by drawing parallels between the Lost Generation from WWI and survivors of the AIDS crisis. Ordinarily, when I read books that go back and forth between two narrators I tend t In a weird way, I feel that this is the sweeping gay masterpiece that A Little Life should’ve been. It’s a nice long read about a close-knit group of gay friends and their straight allies that jumps back and forth between the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and present day Paris. Makkai does a pretty clever thing here by drawing parallels between the Lost Generation from WWI and survivors of the AIDS crisis. Ordinarily, when I read books that go back and forth between two narrators I tend to have a favorite, but in this case I didn’t. Both Fiona and Yale’s parts address the central question of what happens to our communities when they are ravaged? Who carries on the memories? What does it mean to take on the burden of that mantle? And how do families—biological and chosen—reconcile with lives that can be simultaneously too short and too long? To say that I loved this book would be both an understatement and a misrepresentation. I can’t say that it was the best book that I’ve ever read or the one that moved me the most. Some parts—like Yale’s almost aggressive naïveté or Claire’s tenuously grounded animosity towards her mom—troubled me from a craft perspective, but I somehow love it all the more for its flaws. It’s almost like that friend who you know is kind of a boar but you enjoy spending time with anyway. I loved the flaws here. I was in the world fully. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!
    more
  • Lydia
    January 1, 1970
    I LOVE this book. It's heartbreaking and propulsive - I could not put it down, and was turning pages so fast it felt like I was reading a thriller. I loved all the characters, and thought the author did a wonderful job of the time change (going back in time then current day).
    more
  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    There’s an important story here (at least in the 1985 strand) as AIDS cuts through the Chicago gay community – but something about Makkai’s style left me feeling mostly disengaged from it in emotional terms. Sure, I had moments of anger as we witness a dead man’s parents exclude his lover from the funeral, the horrible voyeurism that makes a thing of a man being gay, black, whatever. But overall I was never able to get involved or attached to what is going on.Add to the style a baggy structure t There’s an important story here (at least in the 1985 strand) as AIDS cuts through the Chicago gay community – but something about Makkai’s style left me feeling mostly disengaged from it in emotional terms. Sure, I had moments of anger as we witness a dead man’s parents exclude his lover from the funeral, the horrible voyeurism that makes a thing of a man being gay, black, whatever. But overall I was never able to get involved or attached to what is going on.Add to the style a baggy structure that flips between 1985 and 2015, and a whole other story that has little connection to the first one other than featuring the same character, and the book started to alienate me further.What is it about contemporary authors that they almost all seem to think that they need multiple narratives, times switches and excess baggage to create a novel? A more careful, focused, intimate story of the AIDS crisis and its effects might have made this more palatable.
    more
  • Mainlinebooker
    January 1, 1970
    Makkai creates a very personal tour of the AIDS crisis in the 80's in Chicago alternating with chapters occurring in Paris in 2015. Many books have been written about the dreadful trajectories for many AIDS patients at the beginning of this crossroad but few have had the skilled dialogue that takes one inside the minds and hearts of everyday life as individuals confront a disease that no one knew much about. It felt so intimate that I was sure Makkai must have had personal relationships with AID Makkai creates a very personal tour of the AIDS crisis in the 80's in Chicago alternating with chapters occurring in Paris in 2015. Many books have been written about the dreadful trajectories for many AIDS patients at the beginning of this crossroad but few have had the skilled dialogue that takes one inside the minds and hearts of everyday life as individuals confront a disease that no one knew much about. It felt so intimate that I was sure Makkai must have had personal relationships with AIDS victims at this particular point in time, but upon researching realized that she was but a toddler in the 80's. In this novel, Yale Tishman, a young development director at an art gallery finds out about a series of paintings from the 1920's that could be donated to his workplace . As he explores procurement, one by one his friends are becoming sicker and dying as AIDS takes its toll. Meanwhile, in 2015, Fiona Marcus, the sister of one of his good friends that has died and a fierce supporter of AIDS issues, tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter in Paris. At the end of the book, the two stories coalesce, providing a deeper look on how to endure and survive with the life one has been given . Powerful and affirming, this book will touch many a person's heart and soul.
    more
  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    In 1985, AIDS, an epidemic that is rarely mentioned outside of the gay community, tears Yale and his friends’ lives apart. Thirty years later, Fiona, his closest friend, continues to struggle with the memories of that year.An impassioned novel that intertwines the lives of several remarkable characters to tell a story about the power of love even in the face of despair.
    more
  • Cheryl DeFranceschi
    January 1, 1970
    This may well end up being my favorite book this year. Gorgeous and generous and filled to the brim with a story that my heart just leapt into. Sigh.
  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. That out of the way: no, I really LOVED this book. It's so sad but so beautiful. It's about found families that can tie people together and be more important than blood relations. It's a portrait of my city before my time, a portrait of a generation in pain and sickness, but it's still got so much life and urgency. Sometimes I get to the last line of a good book and tears spring to my eyes, and this one made me want to sob.
    more
  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    I found The Great Believers really dry and boring. It's about the AIDs epidemic and a group of gay friends, split between 1985 and 2015, and yet this subject that should have been deeply emotional left me cold. I didn't care for the characters and there were huge chunks that could have (and should have) been cut out.The Heart's Invisible Furies and The House of Impossible Beauties also look at this time period and do a much better job of it, in my opinion. Each have more interesting characters, I found The Great Believers really dry and boring. It's about the AIDs epidemic and a group of gay friends, split between 1985 and 2015, and yet this subject that should have been deeply emotional left me cold. I didn't care for the characters and there were huge chunks that could have (and should have) been cut out.The Heart's Invisible Furies and The House of Impossible Beauties also look at this time period and do a much better job of it, in my opinion. Each have more interesting characters, and the former especially has a far more engaging story. The only character I was able to form any kind of connection with in this book was Yale, and even that took some time.It just dragged a lot, with many parts feeling superfluous. The Paris chapters were particularly dull and they felt like a completely separate story - one I don't really feel needed to be told. Overall, the prose was lengthy, repetitive, and difficult to enjoy.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
    more
  • Sara Leonard
    January 1, 1970
    How do we keep the stories of our loved ones alive, when we're the only ones around to share them? This is the question posed by Makkai's breathtaking novel, alternating between the AIDS crisis in 1985 Chicago and Paris in 2015. The novel focuses on Yale, a young man devastated by the loss of countless friends while living in fear of his own future, and Fiona, a middle-aged woman still trying to figure out how to live with her own daughter after losing everything. The Great Believers is a gut-wr How do we keep the stories of our loved ones alive, when we're the only ones around to share them? This is the question posed by Makkai's breathtaking novel, alternating between the AIDS crisis in 1985 Chicago and Paris in 2015. The novel focuses on Yale, a young man devastated by the loss of countless friends while living in fear of his own future, and Fiona, a middle-aged woman still trying to figure out how to live with her own daughter after losing everything. The Great Believers is a gut-wrenching saga that will surely make you gasp at the sheer sorrow that permeates the book. However, it will also remind you of the beauty that hides behind the heartache, the value of allowing yourself to remember, despite the pain it brings. One of Makkai's characters commiserates with Horatio's hardship in Hamlet, stating, "But what a burden. To be Horatio. To be the one with the memory. And what's Horatio supposed to do with it?" Makkai doesn't disguise the burden of memory, but instead allows the love and grief to coexist.
    more
  • Janet
    January 1, 1970
    This book is exquisite. The characters seem so real I still think of them almost every day even though I finished this 6 weeks ago.
  • Jeremy Owens
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a gift.
  • Mary Chuirazzi
    January 1, 1970
    This book, and Yale in particular, will stay with me for a long long time. Fabulous.
  • Rachel León
    January 1, 1970
    Damn, what a book.
  • Adam Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    Destined to become a classic Chicago novel that's read and taught for decades.
  • Danny Caine
    January 1, 1970
    A moving novel tracing the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers is wonderful. Dual protagonists Fiona and Yale come of age in the same friend group in what would eventually become Boystown. Everything is rosy until Fiona's brother Nico dies, and then the dominoes quickly start falling. The novel is at its best tracing the disease's effects on this memorable bunch, but it also has poignant explorations of career, art, love, and the difficulties of parenting. Big in A moving novel tracing the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers is wonderful. Dual protagonists Fiona and Yale come of age in the same friend group in what would eventually become Boystown. Everything is rosy until Fiona's brother Nico dies, and then the dominoes quickly start falling. The novel is at its best tracing the disease's effects on this memorable bunch, but it also has poignant explorations of career, art, love, and the difficulties of parenting. Big in its sweep, and stuffed with ideas, this is a great pick for book clubs or for anyone who wants an emotional gut punch with their fiction.
    more
  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    The protagonists of Rebecca Makkai’s terrifyingly sad novel, The Great Believers, Fiona and Yale, are trapped by love and obligation. In 1985, Yale is living through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago. His friends and dying all around him while he and his lover worry about catching the virus. In 2015, Fiona is tracking down her estranged daughter, who disappeared after leaving a cult. Both of them desperately want to love someone who can’t love them back. The stakes in 2015 are different from thos The protagonists of Rebecca Makkai’s terrifyingly sad novel, The Great Believers, Fiona and Yale, are trapped by love and obligation. In 1985, Yale is living through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago. His friends and dying all around him while he and his lover worry about catching the virus. In 2015, Fiona is tracking down her estranged daughter, who disappeared after leaving a cult. Both of them desperately want to love someone who can’t love them back. The stakes in 2015 are different from those in 1985 and I often wondered why the 2015 chapters were included. It wasn’t until near the end that I saw the echoes and similarities between the two plots make sense. When they did, I was floored by the emotional impact of Yale and Fiona’s story...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.
    more
  • Christi
    January 1, 1970
    I don't say this about many books I read, but this one is *important*. Makkai masterfully takes us back to the tragedy of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the late 80's, a time I remember vividly: all the misinformation, the fear, the hope and despair, the growing awareness of AIDS and the government's limp response to the pandemic, as well as the gay pride movement and activism. Makkai is a master storyteller, and the book is as entertaining as it is informative. It's sad, sure. I mean, your heart I don't say this about many books I read, but this one is *important*. Makkai masterfully takes us back to the tragedy of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the late 80's, a time I remember vividly: all the misinformation, the fear, the hope and despair, the growing awareness of AIDS and the government's limp response to the pandemic, as well as the gay pride movement and activism. Makkai is a master storyteller, and the book is as entertaining as it is informative. It's sad, sure. I mean, your heart is going to get scissored into little bits by the end, but you'll also laugh and feel like you're part of this tight group of friends, and you'll love Fiona, the sister of one of the victims. You'll smirk at their wry observations, the surprising and astute dialogue, and the smart shifts in time, from Chicago in the 80's to Paris in 2015. You'll also learn a lot about the art world.I was never bored, and I never stopped caring about these characters who want so much, and are afraid of their own wanting. I can recommend Makkai's book with confidence. I can also say that it's about time we reflect on the long-term implications of the crisis, and consider the enormous loss that changed people and cities and our culture. I can tell I'm going to brag that I was an early reader of this book. Makkai is a master.
    more
  • Taylor Noel
    January 1, 1970
    Absolutely stunning and emotionally devastating in the best way. I haven’t loved characters in a nov this much since I read Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE. A powerful, smart, compassionate story of grief, trauma, friendship, love, mortality, and redemption set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. One of the best books I’ve read.
    more
  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    This is a beautiful, beautiful book. It took me about three weeks to read partly because I wanted to ration it, and party because it's very, very sad. It alternates between Chicago in the 1980s, following a gay man as he and his friends navigate the AIDS crisis, and Paris in 2015, following the sister of the man whose funeral begins the book as she attempts to reconcile with her estranged daughter. Both stories are heartbreaking, but I found things to relate to in each of them. Rebecca Makkai ha This is a beautiful, beautiful book. It took me about three weeks to read partly because I wanted to ration it, and party because it's very, very sad. It alternates between Chicago in the 1980s, following a gay man as he and his friends navigate the AIDS crisis, and Paris in 2015, following the sister of the man whose funeral begins the book as she attempts to reconcile with her estranged daughter. Both stories are heartbreaking, but I found things to relate to in each of them. Rebecca Makkai has clearly done excellent research for this book, and I thought her tackling of a story not her own never slipped into appropriation. I loved this book and I know it will be one I return to!
    more
  • Rachel Watkins
    January 1, 1970
    I want to call THE GREAT BELIEVERS historical fiction, because Makkai's inclusion of Chicago in the 1980s is so pivotal to the story. I adored this story of friendships gained and lost, lovers found and rejected. This would be a great vacation read!
  • Jillian Doherty
    January 1, 1970
    An epic story over the course of two decades.One story of a mother and daughter, brilliantly linked with friends and lovers, as heart wrenching as it is gripping and historically compelling; you have to see what happens to them all.From Paris to Chicago, you can walk the streets and visualize neighborhoods, hospitals, apartments and local haunts to bring you full circle in the end.With growing esteem, and so much local love - Makkai wows us again.
    more
  • Virginia
    January 1, 1970
    *review to come*
  • Laura Hill
    January 1, 1970
    Writing: 3 Characters: 4 Plot: 3.5In this epic novel of lives dismantled by the AIDS epidemic, the action bounces between the gay community in Chicago circa 1985, modern day Paris, and Bohemian Paris on the brink of WWI. There are strong themes of blame, shame, and redemption and good insights into human feeling and behavior in the midst of wide-spread tragedy. The loosely linked narrative streams each elaborate on the impact (both obvious and unrecognized) of large scale bereavement on both sur Writing: 3 Characters: 4 Plot: 3.5In this epic novel of lives dismantled by the AIDS epidemic, the action bounces between the gay community in Chicago circa 1985, modern day Paris, and Bohemian Paris on the brink of WWI. There are strong themes of blame, shame, and redemption and good insights into human feeling and behavior in the midst of wide-spread tragedy. The loosely linked narrative streams each elaborate on the impact (both obvious and unrecognized) of large scale bereavement on both survivors and the world at large. I learned a lot from this book and found the messages powerful, but it was a slog and it did not need to be. The narratives were way too long with little gems of insight buried in lengthy, repetitive, and sometimes irrelevant, prose. The author uses perpetual angst to move the plot forward leaving the reader wrung out by the end. While one could argue this is the right state for the subject, it’s wearing to have it drawn out to such length. The two main threads - Chicago in 1985 and Paris in 2015 - are really two completely separate stories with only a thin strand of connective tissue. In 1985, Yale Tishman, a young gay man, works to acquire a valuable donation for his new gallery while simultaneously watching his community splinter, fight, panic, and finally succumb as AIDS strikes. In 2015, Fiona, a middle aged woman who was a close friend of Yale’s and whose brother Nico was one of the earliest AIDS victims, searches for the adult daughter (and possible granddaughter) who has intentionally withdrawn from Fiona’s life. Although Fiona features in both, I felt the 2015 story line offered little to the main themes of the book and feel it could have been left out altogether. The themes are really outlined in the 1985 story as well as embedded tale of the art donor, Fiona’s Great Aunt Nora, who feels those going through the AIDS crisis are the only ones who understand what she went through in WWI. She compares the many deaths from WWI (in her youth) to those from AIDS (current) and laments not only that so many friends are gone, but that they never got to live and accomplish. In a beautiful passage she brings to life all the art that never happened because these people died and the tragedy resulting from the fact that we didn’t even know enough to miss it. On the whole I believe this book is worth reading, especially if you’re interested in a well-researched, detailed story about the devastating impact of AIDS on real, fully drawn people, but be prepared to work a little harder than you should.
    more
  • Siobhan
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Believers is a novel, quite epic in scope, that moves between the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s and Paris of 2015, before and after the Bataclan attacks. It opens with Yale Tishman mourning the death of his friend Nico, and tells Yale's story as he works on bringing some old paintings into an art gallery in Chicago as part of an old lady's dying wish; at the same time, the novel tells the story of Nico's little sister Fiona who, thirty years later, is in Paris trying to repair he The Great Believers is a novel, quite epic in scope, that moves between the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the 1980s and Paris of 2015, before and after the Bataclan attacks. It opens with Yale Tishman mourning the death of his friend Nico, and tells Yale's story as he works on bringing some old paintings into an art gallery in Chicago as part of an old lady's dying wish; at the same time, the novel tells the story of Nico's little sister Fiona who, thirty years later, is in Paris trying to repair her relationship with her daughter, Claire, amidst remaining friends and the ghosts of others.The novel is, as the author states, based on real events, and the way it is tied to real tragedy is important; it is easy, in particular, to be drawn into caring about Yale and his narrative because it is so real. The whole story about the artwork that Yale must fight to get into the gallery, whilst dealing with friends dying and his own potential for having the virus, may seem to some like a subplot to the main narrative of the crisis and the men involved. However, Makkai tries to draw parallels across time not only between the two narratives in the novel, but with the artists in the early twentieth century whose lives were torn apart by war. How effective this is may be a matter of opinion, but the book clearly tries to span time and show tragedy and trauma.The Great Believers is a sad yet readable novel showing a group of friends and what remains of them thirty years later. It can be powerful, but its length may put some people off. It is a novel that would be well-suited to being paired with first-hand accounts of the AIDS crisis, to highlight the personal that is depicted fictionally in this book.
    more
  • Allison Reilly
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved this book. One story-line is set in 1980's Chicago, centering around a group of gay men dealing with the AIDS crisis as well as their own personal lives, relationships, and challenges. The book opens with one of our narrators, Yale, attending the memorial service for his friend Nico who has just died of AIDS. Nico's sister Fiona is the other narrator, whose story-line takes place in Paris in 2015. The characters felt complex and flawed in very real ways. Their love for each ot I absolutely loved this book. One story-line is set in 1980's Chicago, centering around a group of gay men dealing with the AIDS crisis as well as their own personal lives, relationships, and challenges. The book opens with one of our narrators, Yale, attending the memorial service for his friend Nico who has just died of AIDS. Nico's sister Fiona is the other narrator, whose story-line takes place in Paris in 2015. The characters felt complex and flawed in very real ways. Their love for each other, their heartbreaks and their regrets, gave this book so much emotional potency. I couldn't put it down. This novel completely wrecked me. I wish I could give it ten stars.
    more
Write a review