The Great Believers
“A page turner...An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis." —New York Times Book Review.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 in 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, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon 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 crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

The Great Believers Details

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

The Great Believers Review

  • Rebecca Makkai
    January 1, 1970
    Only giving this five stars because I'm married to the author's husband.
  • Larry H
    January 1, 1970
    I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars, rounding up.At the start of The Great Believers , Rebecca Makkai's beautifully poignant yet meandering new novel, it is 1985, and Yale Tishman and his partner, Charlie, are preparing for the memorial service for Nico, a friend who has recently died of AIDS.The gay community in Chicago where they live has been devastated by this recently discovered disease, as have gay communities across the country. The sense of loss they feel is just beginning to hit them, as they I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars, rounding up.At the start of The Great Believers , Rebecca Makkai's beautifully poignant yet meandering new novel, it is 1985, and Yale Tishman and his partner, Charlie, are preparing for the memorial service for Nico, a friend who has recently died of AIDS.The gay community in Chicago where they live has been devastated by this recently discovered disease, as have gay communities across the country. The sense of loss they feel is just beginning to hit them, as they begin hearing more and more about people getting sick, more people living in denial and fear, more people simply disappearing.As much as the disease and people's attitudes towards it affect him, Yale has other things to focus on. As the development director for a university art gallery, he stumbles on an unexpected windfall: an elderly woman wants to bequeath her collection of 1920s artwork to the gallery. But uncertainty about the artwork's authenticity and familial outrage at the potential value of a gift that could be given to strangers causes Yale and his colleagues more stress than anticipated, at a time when emotions are running high in his relationship with Charlie as well.With the disease circling ever closer, Yale finds his life changing in many ways, and he begins relying more and more on Fiona, his friend Nico's younger sister. Fiona is wise beyond her years, and finds herself acting as a companion of sorts, and ultimately, power of attorney, for many of her late brother's friends. It's a role that impacts her greatly."'The thing is, the disease itself feels like a judgment. We've all got a little Jesse Helms on our shoulder, right? If you got it from sleeping with a thousand guys, then it's a judgment on your promiscuity. If you got it from sleeping with one guy once, that's almost worse, it's like a judgment on all of us, like the act itself is the problem and not the number of times you did it. And if you got it because you thought you couldn't, it's a judgment on your hubris.'"In a parallel storyline which takes place 30 years later, Fiona has traveled to Paris to try and find her estranged daughter, who had fled the U.S. after joining a cult. Fiona's relationship with her daughter has always been difficult, but she hopes to make peace with Claire. She stays with an old friend from Chicago, Richard Campo, a photographer who made his name in the 1980s taking pictures of those in the community affected by AIDS, many of whom were his friends and former lovers. Surrounded by memories both photographic and anecdotal, Fiona is haunted by the ghosts of her friends. She comes to realize how much she sacrificed caring for and loving these men, sacrifices which affected her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, and her life. But given the chance, would she do it over again, or would she put herself and her own life first?Parts of this book were tremendously moving and poignant, reminding me both of the movie Longtime Companion and, at times, Tim Murphy's gorgeous novel, Christodora (see my review), although this is very different. Makkai did a phenomenal job capturing the emotions, the fears, the culture, and the challenges of those infected with AIDS in the early days of the disease.I enjoyed Fiona's character and her journey, but I could have done without her protracted search for her daughter and her interaction with another random character, although I like the way her modern-day storyline intertwined with Yale's. And while I loved Yale's character and could have read a book about him alone, I'll admit I could have done without the whole art thing, although it did set other plot points into motion.I was fortunate to come of age after AIDS had been discovered so I understood the risks and methods of prevention much better than those who came before me. But that doesn't mean that life in the late 1980s and early 1990s weren't without fear and ignorance and prejudice toward those with the disease.Makkai is a tremendously talented writer, and I've read a few of her previous books. While this book frustrated me at times, I still really found it compelling and emotional, and feel like Makkai did an excellent job examining a bleak time in the LGBT community. See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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!
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  • 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!
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  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    "But what a burden, to be Horatio. To be the one with the memory." Like many others of a certain age who are fans of musical theater, I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I thought Rent was the most amazing piece of art ever created. A lot about the show hasn’t aged well—just pay your rent, guys—but it’s still a moving remembrance of a very particular time and place: New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s One of my favorite lines in the show isn’t one that I "But what a burden, to be Horatio. To be the one with the memory." Like many others of a certain age who are fans of musical theater, I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I thought Rent was the most amazing piece of art ever created. A lot about the show hasn’t aged well—just pay your rent, guys—but it’s still a moving remembrance of a very particular time and place: New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s One of my favorite lines in the show isn’t one that I think a lot of others would cite. It’s not funny, it’s not romantic, it’s not empowering. It got cut out of the movie adaptation (and I could write a long, long paper about why that was a bad move), but it’s when Roger, preparing to move to Santa Fe, angrily tells Mark, “You pretend to create and observe when you really detach from being alive.” Mark’s response to him sums up everything you need to know about his role in the story: “Perhaps that’s because I’m the one of us to survive.” It’s a brilliant, brutal, beautiful line, for so many reasons Having been too young and too far removed from the AIDS epidemic, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to watch huge portions of your community become sick and die of this disease with no treatment options and so much stigma. But there was a different, specific kind of psychological wrinkle that comes with being the Mark Cohen of the group, the one to survive. The one to remember. And that’s the psychological wrinkle that Rebecca Makkai is exploring in her brilliant, brutal, beautiful novel The Great Believers. Told across two different timelines thirty years apart, Makkai examines the lingering effects of the AIDS epidemic on one group of friends in Chicago. In 1985, Yale Tishman attends a memorial service for his friend Nico, the first among his group to succumb to the disease. Over the next several years, this will become a familiar scene for Yale as more and more of his friends become sick and pass away. The one constant is Nico’s little sister, Fiona, who continues to provide care for Nico’s friends as, one by one, they receive positive tests. For everyone in the Chicago gay community, there is the lingering question—when will it be me? For Yale, the question is present, certainly, but he feels comforted by the fact that he is in a monogamous relationship with Charlie and, therefore, theoretically, at a much lower risk of contracting HIV. Meanwhile, he distracts himself from his grief by focusing his attentions on his work. As the development director for an up-and-coming art gallery, Yale is trying to secure a bequest from Fiona’s great aunt, who spent her youth in Paris mingling with artists. Now she wants to leave the works those men left behind to Yale’s gallery, much to the horror of her family. In 2015, Fiona is a middle-aged woman who has come to Paris to search for Claire, the adult daughter from whom she is estranged. She and Claire have had a fraught relationship since her daughter was young and Fiona had an affair with another man that ended her marriage to Claire’s father. When Claire was a teenager, she ran away with a man fifteen years her senior and ended up in a cult. She has since left the cult, but hasn’t been in touch with her mother, and Fiona is desperate to make amends. Though much of the 1980s narration focuses on Yale, this is ultimately Fiona’s story. She’s the one who, in the present-day, bears the brunt of the psychological scarring that comes from being, as Mark Cohen put it in Rent, the one to survive. As we learn more about her relationship with Claire and why it fell apart, we see how much it was related to the pain that Fiona experienced watching her brother and so many of his friends in the gay community die. As you can imagine, this book is absolutely heartbreaking. I started sobbing on page 334 (the start of one of the most heart-wrenching chapters I’ve read in years) and I did not stop until after I hit the final page, 418. As Yale struggles to acquire the art for the exhibition, as he watches the people around him receive diagnoses, grow sick, and die, as Fiona puts her life on hold to care for her brother’s friends, as she struggles to understand the source of her daughter’s resentments, as we wend into the final scene, at a different art exhibition thirty years after Yale’s, a scene that also beautifully called to mind the ending of Rent, there is so much pain and sadness and loss in this book. And yet, it never felt emotionally manipulative to me. It never felt sad just for the sake of being sad. It really forced me to consider what it must have been like to live through this awful experience that so many people—and especially gay men—lived through within my lifetime. The writing can be a little overly literary in some spots and it moves a little slowly in the beginning. But it's still so incredibly well done and I want to make everyone I know read it. Guys, read this book. It has a lot of buzz, but it's deserved. This will almost certainly end up at the top of my own Best of 2018 list. I can't recommend it enough.
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  • Martie Nees Record
    January 1, 1970
    Genre: General FictionPublisher: Penguin Group VikingPub. Date: June 19, 2018 The Grim Reaper follows all in this novel. Think of Scrooge without a happy ending. The author, Rebecca Makkai, writes about the 1980s AIDS outbreak. The novel is set in the heart of Chicago in an area known as Boystown. There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters: one is in the 1980s and the other is in present time. The book opens in the past. We meet a close-knit group of friends, most of them gay men, at Genre: General FictionPublisher: Penguin Group VikingPub. Date: June 19, 2018 The Grim Reaper follows all in this novel. Think of Scrooge without a happy ending. The author, Rebecca Makkai, writes about the 1980s AIDS outbreak. The novel is set in the heart of Chicago in an area known as Boystown. There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters: one is in the 1980s and the other is in present time. The book opens in the past. We meet a close-knit group of friends, most of them gay men, attending a “celebration of life” party after the death of one of their own. Across town, the actual funeral is going on in a Catholic church. Since the parents didn’t invite their deceased son’s lover to the funeral, the friends have their own sort-of-service for him. The whole gang is at this party including his straight, younger sister. She disowns her parents and family the way they disowned her older brother. Her brothers’ friends adore her. She often says that she has100 older brothers. In the present, the little sister is now a middle-aged woman searching for her estranged daughter, who may or may not have joined a cult. She has the help of one last brother who survived the epidemic. He is now in his eighties. I smiled when they first laid eyes on each other for the first time in many years. They each had the exact same thought—how can he/she be so old?The author does a good job describing the terror of the early years of the virus. The kid sister watches her brothers die one by one. You might cry because you will grow fond of these men. Some have big personalities. Others have sweet and shy ways. They come from all walks of life, and the author makes sure you get to know each character as if you met them personally. If you do not cry, you will still feel the heartbreak of the times. The agony of making the decision to take the test, waiting on the test results, waiting for the symptoms, and then waiting for a horrendous death. Makkai also shows the emotional scars on the present-day lives of survivors. The sister has had a life of depression, which of course affected her adult relationships as well as her mothering skills. The author is so passionate on the subject of HIV/AIDS that it came as no surprise to learn that the disease has touched someone in her life. The story is good, but not on the level of “The Boys in the Band.” “Believers” reads similar to “The Philadelphia Story.” You will cry, but you are aware that the author is manipulating your heartstrings. My only issue in the novel is in the present when the focus is on the sister’s search for her daughter. This extra plot wasn’t needed. It reads like a private detective tale that in no way could compete with the superior story told while in the past. Overall, this is a well written, ambitious historical novel of a horrible time in America when very few Americans felt compassion for those who were locked in the jaws of the disease. It wasn’t uncommon to hear that God sent this disease to punish the immoral. It was the gay men’s isolation (no one would even physically touch them) that hit me the hardest. They only had each other. This is a huge-hearted novel displaying the staggering toll of the epidemic. And, although it is a story is about death, once completed, you will have a stronger sense of life.I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.Find all my book reviews at:Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/listLeave Me Alone I am Reading & Reviewing: https://books6259.wordpress.com/Twitter: Martie’s Book Reviews: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
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  • 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.
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  • 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
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  • 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).
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  • Paula Bardell-Hedley
    January 1, 1970
    “They were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy.” I remember vividly that bleak period in the early 1980s when a spectrum of bizarre but fatal conditions started afflicting gay men. The tabloids were in their element, describing the mystery illnesses as a 'Gay Plague' while rallying their readers to demand all homosexuals be deported somewhere remote, away from 'decent people'. As religious leaders proclaimed the outbreak was “They were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy.” I remember vividly that bleak period in the early 1980s when a spectrum of bizarre but fatal conditions started afflicting gay men. The tabloids were in their element, describing the mystery illnesses as a 'Gay Plague' while rallying their readers to demand all homosexuals be deported somewhere remote, away from 'decent people'. As religious leaders proclaimed the outbreak was a sign of retribution from whichever deity they promoted, flustered politicians attempted to avert panic by insisting the 'general public' need not concern itself with a 'gay disease'. Young men suffering with illnesses like Kaposi's sarcoma were said to 'deserve whatever they got' and were accused of being a drain on the NHS, then hospital staff started refusing to treat them for fear of catching something. Because of ignorance and indifference, the LGB community (the T had not been added at that point) was all but abandoned and left to take care of itself while a pandemic spread unimpeded by those in authority. It was a shameful chapter in our history, and one that I hope will never be repeated for any reason.My memories, of course, are of a time when HIV/AIDS – or human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome – first arrived in the UK. Rebecca Makkai's new novel is set in Chicago, primarily in and around East Lakeview's Boystown neighbourhood, which was the first officially recognized gay village in the United States.We are taken back to 1985, when Yale Tishman, an art gallery development director is on the brink of acquiring a remarkable collection of 1920s paintings and letters for his institution. Yet at the very moment his career begins to blossom, his personal life falls apart. AIDS is decimating Chicago's gay community and his friends are dying one after another. His life has gone from a brief phase of great joy, freedom and camaraderie to an unending round of bad news, caring for the sick and attending funerals.Thirty years later, Yales' old friend Fiona is in Paris attempting to track down her adult daughter who has recently left a cult and had a baby. She stays in the home of an acquaintance who, like her, was a Chicagoan witness and front-line fighter in the early years of the illness. It is here she finds herself confronting memories, personal trauma and the possible effect living with such an abundance of grief had on her only child. We swing back and forth between the '80s and 2015, as history plays out in the background, from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster to the Bataclan massacre, and as Yale and Fiona attempt to find some hope among the human detritus. The Great Believers is a tribute to those who nursed and lost loved ones during the early years; the people who suffered with and died from AIDS related illnesses while being treated as pariahs; and the few who who survived long enough to receive life-extending antiretrovirals. As a novel it is compelling and affecting. Makkai's research is exhaustive but unobtrusive, thus the lives of her well-developed characters leave one oscillating between feelings of desolation and hope, outrage and empathy. Several reviewers have accused it of being overlong, and in parts, that may be so – but it is a miniscule gripe in a work of such magnitude. Makkai's story centres on Chicago, but it was a similar scenario throughout the developed world. These days the greatest number of people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in the continued deaths of untold thousands each year. There have been over 35 million humans wiped out since AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s. One wonders how many of them would still be alive today were it not for discrimination and wilful blindness on the part of our leaders? “It's always a matter, isn't it, of waiting for the world to come unravelled? When things hold together, it's always only temporary.” Many thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing an advance review copy of this title.
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  • Rebecca Foster
    January 1, 1970
    I read the first 50 pages for a potential BookBrowse review, skimmed up to p. 172 and also skimmed the last few chapters. There’s a near-contemporary story line that’s not very compelling; while I enjoyed the 1980s strand, there are a lot of secondary characters we don’t get to know very well, plus the details of Yale’s art deal slow down the narrative. I really wanted to appreciate the book because I loved Makkai’s two previous novels so much, but I’m not feeling the impetus to continue.Favorit I read the first 50 pages for a potential BookBrowse review, skimmed up to p. 172 and also skimmed the last few chapters. There’s a near-contemporary story line that’s not very compelling; while I enjoyed the 1980s strand, there are a lot of secondary characters we don’t get to know very well, plus the details of Yale’s art deal slow down the narrative. I really wanted to appreciate the book because I loved Makkai’s two previous novels so much, but I’m not feeling the impetus to continue.Favorite line: “Do you think it’s possible that all the sickness and funerals and everything—they’ve made us feel less secure?”Potential readalikes / books you might read instead: A Little Life, How to Survive a Plague and The Italian Teacher.
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  • Tyler Goodson
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Believers is the kind of book you make time for, the kind you cancel plans and turn your phone off for. It's utterly believable, heartbreaking, and beautiful. In Makkai's hands, this generation devastated by AIDS are not victims, but fighters, resisters, and believers. I am thankful for this book.
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  • Doug
    January 1, 1970
    4.5, rounded up.I've read a lot of criticism that a 40 year old straight woman dares to write a book about the early years of the AIDS crisis, and the author acknowledges that others might claim inappropriate appropriation - but it is clear that not only has she done her homework, but her skill and imagination has covered any glaring gaps from not witnessing it first-hand. Two of the blurbs for the book use the term 'immersive' and it's an apt description - one does become very involved in the t 4.5, rounded up.I've read a lot of criticism that a 40 year old straight woman dares to write a book about the early years of the AIDS crisis, and the author acknowledges that others might claim inappropriate appropriation - but it is clear that not only has she done her homework, but her skill and imagination has covered any glaring gaps from not witnessing it first-hand. Two of the blurbs for the book use the term 'immersive' and it's an apt description - one does become very involved in the two twined stories being told - the first about a group of gay artists and friends in Chicago in the early 80's, and the second about the sister of one of the first of that group to die, searching for her missing daughter in Paris 30 years later. It is perhaps inevitable that one story eclipses the other, and here I found the first story a bit more interesting. My only other major criticism would be that, several times, revelations (including the deaths of several major characters) are made in odd places and with an abruptness and off-hand manner that is sometimes jarring. Otherwise, I'd have to concede that this is one of the most compelling fictional depictions of that horrendous period.And not to be nitpicky, but my OCD flared badly when on p. 142 a paragraph begins: "And so an hour later there were seven of them seated around Nora's dinner table..." and then goes on to list EIGHT people there! ARRRGGGGHHHHH! :-(PS...the title is taken from a quote by Fitzgerald used as an epigraph, but it is a really, REALLY lousy title - one would think this is a book of religious philosophy due to that, instead of what it IS!!PPS - a really terrific review from Michael Cunningham, that is far more eloquent than I could ever be: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/bo...
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  • Stephen Kiernan
    January 1, 1970
    One of my favorite novels of the year. This book chronicles the arrival of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the early 80s. But don't let that scare you away. It is packed with humor (something funny on nearly every page), there are great characters and a wry sensibility from start to finish, and about a third of the book is actually set in present day, when a woman who was deep in AIDS activism is searching for her runaway daughter. Yes, there is sadness -- but this book has zero melodrama and to One of my favorite novels of the year. This book chronicles the arrival of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the early 80s. But don't let that scare you away. It is packed with humor (something funny on nearly every page), there are great characters and a wry sensibility from start to finish, and about a third of the book is actually set in present day, when a woman who was deep in AIDS activism is searching for her runaway daughter. Yes, there is sadness -- but this book has zero melodrama and tons of heart. An excellent novel. Highly recommended.
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  • Sarah at Sarah's Book Shelves
    January 1, 1970
    [4.5 stars]Thank you to Viking Books and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this book.The Great Believers is one of those “issue” book that makes the issue an organic part of the characters’ lives…and these are the types of “issue” books that work for me. It’s ultimately a gorgeous story about friendship in the face of disaster and is the kind of book you can just sink into. It’s got a little bit of The Heart’s Invisible Furies (sexuality, the AIDS crisis, characters you can root for wholehearted [4.5 stars]Thank you to Viking Books and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this book.The Great Believers is one of those “issue” book that makes the issue an organic part of the characters’ lives…and these are the types of “issue” books that work for me. It’s ultimately a gorgeous story about friendship in the face of disaster and is the kind of book you can just sink into. It’s got a little bit of The Heart’s Invisible Furies (sexuality, the AIDS crisis, characters you can root for wholeheartedly) and a little bit of A Little Life (a group of male friends facing terrible circumstances, but without the overwhelming violence), but retains its own uniqueness. These characters worked their way into my heart, even as it was breaking for them. Makkai’s writing wasn’t the kind that had me highlighting right and left…it was more the kind that just pulled me right into the story. And, the dual timelines come together in a surprising and satisfying way. This book has heart…and it’s seriously literary, but will still keep you turning the pages because you just have to find out what’s going to happen to these characters.Visit https://www.sarahsbookshelves.com for more reviews.
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  • Christopher Alonso
    January 1, 1970
    Okay, I cried. A lot.
  • Jessica Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    This sprawling, intimate novel takes on the legacy of the AIDS crisis, focusing on one group of friends in Chicago in the 1980s.It’s 1985 and Yale Tishman’s friends are dying one by one. As his career at a Chicago art gallery begins to take off, his personal life is consumed with loss—not to mention the looming fear of getting sick himself. Yale throws himself into a new project, helping the aunt of one of his late friends Nico unveil a collection of paintings from famous 1920s artists that she This sprawling, intimate novel takes on the legacy of the AIDS crisis, focusing on one group of friends in Chicago in the 1980s.It’s 1985 and Yale Tishman’s friends are dying one by one. As his career at a Chicago art gallery begins to take off, his personal life is consumed with loss—not to mention the looming fear of getting sick himself. Yale throws himself into a new project, helping the aunt of one of his late friends Nico unveil a collection of paintings from famous 1920s artists that she once knew.The novel jumps between 1985 to 2015, where Nico’s sister Fiona, once the caretaker of her brother and his friend as they slowly succumbed to AIDS, attempts to track down her estranged daughter. Fiona has spent her entire adult life burdened by grief, hesitant to get close to anyone.Makkai does a wonderful job of weaving together these two timelines, revealing not only the urgency and devastation of the AIDS crisis as it was unfolding, but the lasting legacy for those who were touched by it.This is a dense novel that demands careful attention. At times it’s slow, but it’s rewarding—especially toward the end as key connections are made between Fiona and Yale’s narratives, forming the whole picture like a newly restored painting. It’s not as deeply emotional as I expected for a book with such heavy subject matter—due in part perhaps to the dual timelines. That said, the especially poignant passages feel earned. Every now and then a particular sentence would strike me hard. There are families we’re born into a families we choose. Love that ends abruptly and love that lasts a lifetime. The Great Believers is about all of that, about the bonds we form and the people in our lives who make us who we are.
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  • Jerry Delaney
    January 1, 1970
    What a wonderful book! Makkai is one of those authors I will follow for years no matter what she chooses to write about or how she chooses to express it. She chose to express this material by alternating chapters abouta group of gay male friends in Chicago in 1985 with chapters about a woman 2015 searching for her estranged daughter in Paris. I will admit I don't usually like that format of different stories in alternating chapters. I seldom find my interest is equal between the two stories. In What a wonderful book! Makkai is one of those authors I will follow for years no matter what she chooses to write about or how she chooses to express it. She chose to express this material by alternating chapters abouta group of gay male friends in Chicago in 1985 with chapters about a woman 2015 searching for her estranged daughter in Paris. I will admit I don't usually like that format of different stories in alternating chapters. I seldom find my interest is equal between the two stories. In this instance however, it works for me.Many books that write about a group of similarly aged and educated men either are unable give them differentiating voices and personalities, or differentiates them by creating caricatures and stereotypes. Not Makkah. These carefully realized,completely unique characters. So much so that When I finished the book last Sunday I felt that I friends I wanted to call up and find out what they were up to. I think I will always, somewhere in the back of my mind, think of Yale and Fiona as friends I miss speaking to.I lived in Boystown in the mid-70s through the early 90s with a large group of gay male friends. I can remember dinner parties I attended, and look around the table in my mind and know I am the only one still alive. You learn at the time you are thinly one who is holding on to certain memories. If you forget someone's name there is no one to ask so it becomes desperately important to remember things so that that part of their lives are not forgotten. Makkai is capable of capturing those thoughts and that life beautifully. Thank you Rebecca, for helping us remember and hold on to a section of life that could be difficult to live through but was oh so important
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  • Jan
    January 1, 1970
    A page-turning read and an important novel of the AIDS crisis, thankfully set in Chicago rather than New York or San Francisco. There's a lot of plot going on here, and not all the various timelines and characters totally work, but the writing is smooth, the characters complex, and some infuriating and highly relevant history brought to life. The result is a thoughtful, enjoyable reading journey despite tears along the way.
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  • Maureen
    January 1, 1970
    What can I say about this book that has not already been said? It is propulsively readable with character development and tone that will grab a hold of you and suck you out the other end feeling enriched, enlightened and ever so lucky to have had the experience of reading this amazing novel. Serious subjects that could be depressing but are not because of Makkai's precision with the written word. The intertwining and overlapping characters and plot lines are masterfully handled. Unless something What can I say about this book that has not already been said? It is propulsively readable with character development and tone that will grab a hold of you and suck you out the other end feeling enriched, enlightened and ever so lucky to have had the experience of reading this amazing novel. Serious subjects that could be depressing but are not because of Makkai's precision with the written word. The intertwining and overlapping characters and plot lines are masterfully handled. Unless something spectacular comes along in the next 5 months this is going to be THE book of 2018 for me. I was stunned by its brilliance and cannot recommend it highly enough. Please do not miss this book.
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  • Rick
    January 1, 1970
    I think this book may have helpedto prepared me for death (I'm 70).I've become a great believerin the word wizardry of Rebecca Makkai.Best book in a long time, and am actually three pages from finishing, but I'mparalyzed with emotion I want to draw out.
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  • 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.
  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    My most anticipated release of 2018 also happens to be two other things: the 50th book I’ve read this year, and the best. I am a HUGE Rebecca Makkai fan, and a vocal one at that, so I was irrationally nervous to pick this up. I stared at the ARC for months, hoping it would live up to MUSIC FOR WARTIME, and now, of course, I regret all that waiting, because THE GREAT BELIEVERS blew past my greatest expectations. To say this novel is epic in scope feels like an understatement. The absolutely devas My most anticipated release of 2018 also happens to be two other things: the 50th book I’ve read this year, and the best. I am a HUGE Rebecca Makkai fan, and a vocal one at that, so I was irrationally nervous to pick this up. I stared at the ARC for months, hoping it would live up to MUSIC FOR WARTIME, and now, of course, I regret all that waiting, because THE GREAT BELIEVERS blew past my greatest expectations. To say this novel is epic in scope feels like an understatement. The absolutely devastating story of the AIDS crisis in Chicago is interwoven beautifully with a contemporary story of guilt and trauma and memory and motherhood and it is just perfect. That is honestly the best descriptor I can come up with. Perfect. I loved every character, every intelligent observation, and I am fully mourning this book now that I’ve finished it.
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  • 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.
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  • Robin Black
    January 1, 1970
    I was lucky enough to see a pre-publication edition of this book. It's an absolute home run -with Makkai's characteristic insight and transporting prose. And of course this is a subject that is due for just this kind of in depth, compassionate treatment. I highly recommend.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars"We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first spring when I did, and saw death ahead, and we were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer." F. Scott FitzgeraldThis book. This book. For anyone who read "A Little Life" and thought it was mediocre at best, poor at worst (2 stars from me), this book is for you. This book was everything I had hoped and wished that book had been.I was lucky enough to see Rebecca Makkai a couple 4.5 stars"We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first spring when I did, and saw death ahead, and we were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer." F. Scott FitzgeraldThis book. This book. For anyone who read "A Little Life" and thought it was mediocre at best, poor at worst (2 stars from me), this book is for you. This book was everything I had hoped and wished that book had been.I was lucky enough to see Rebecca Makkai a couple of weeks ago and heard her discuss her research for this book, and its writing. In alternate chapters, we are taken to the 1980s during the AIDS crisis in Chicago, then 2015 in Paris. Some of the characters are in both; I'm not going to tell you who, you'll just have to figure that out for yourself. Speaking of figuring things out, Makkai has a great technique in this book and one she described. Some books the reader will know the landscape, know what is "in the room." Makkai, on the other hand, in this book, the reader has a blank slate and things are put "in the room" as we go along. Frequently I caught myself a bit surprised, discovering someone was another character's son, or that a character was African American. This made for a richer experience. And this experience isn't for the faint of heart; for those of us who lived during the start of the AIDS crisis, I was taken back to that time, with questions about what this is, why can't they find a cure for just a virus, why is this happening to ... . It's not a quick and easy read. I found myself sitting down and reading for while and discovering I'd only read ten pages. The writing is slow and deliberate, and appreciated. This is something to take time to get to know and love all of these characters. Yet, I do have a couple of quibbles with this nearly perfect book; the main character, Yale, worked at Northwestern. I never got used to his name as not being the college. And while I had thought the long storyline of some art acquisitions was a bit tedious at time, I discovered that I was richly rewarded in the end. Which honestly ended with a big, long, ugly cry on a warm summer's day. Because I fell in love with these characters, faults and all, and had to say goodbye to all of them. I now want a t-shirt for "The Great Believers" that says "Yale & Fiona & Richard & Julian."
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  • 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.
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