The Great Believers
FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE IN FICTIONWINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDALWINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION WINNER OF THE STONEWALL BOOK AWARDSHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDSoon to Be a Major Television Event, optioned by Amy Poehler A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary ParisIn 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 has become a critically acclaimed, indelible piece of literature; it was selected as one of New York Times Best 10 Books of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Buzzfeed Book of the Year, a Skimm Reads pick, and a pick for the New York Public Library's Best Books of the year.

The Great Believers Details

TitleThe Great Believers
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 4th, 2019
PublisherPenguin Books
ISBN-139780735223530
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, LGBT, Literary Fiction, Audiobook, Novels, Contemporary, Adult Fiction, GLBT, Queer

The Great Believers Review

  • Rebecca Makkai
    January 1, 1970
    Only giving this five stars because I'm married to the author's husband.
  • 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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  • 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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  • Richard Derus
    January 1, 1970
    DNF @ p.148What, I hear you thinking, is wrong with this old man? DNF a five-star read? Five-star a DNF? ::side-eye::The fact is that I lived this story. I lost the love of my life to AIDS, and attended far too many funerals and memorial services before I was 30. So I really just can't finish the book. I am not up for those wounding memories to be poked with a stick.The prose is exemplary in its economy and precision, both qualities I admire greatly. Yale came fully into his manhood for me when, DNF @ p.148What, I hear you thinking, is wrong with this old man? DNF a five-star read? Five-star a DNF? ::side-eye::The fact is that I lived this story. I lost the love of my life to AIDS, and attended far too many funerals and memorial services before I was 30. So I really just can't finish the book. I am not up for those wounding memories to be poked with a stick.The prose is exemplary in its economy and precision, both qualities I admire greatly. Yale came fully into his manhood for me when, on the last page I read, he reflected: ...even if the world wasn't always a good place, he reminded himself that he could trust his perceptions now. Things were so often exactly what they seemed to be.Precisely, Yale, they so often are and one is always wise to remember that fact. Occam proposed his razor for a reason. It's an incisive (haw) insight.So while I fully support the praisemongers in their efforts to convince others to read this book, I am not possessed of the emotional horsepower to do it myself. I encourage y'all to take up the challenge and read it, tout de suite, and predict most will come away with a moving and fulfilling experience.
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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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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.Alternating between present-day Paris and '80s Chicago, The Great Believers explores the impact and aftermath of the AIDS epidemic on a close-knit group of friends living in Boystown. The novel tells three stories, through two perspectives. In the main plot, Yale Tishman struggles to cope with the illness and loss of his friends, and placate a jealous partner who fears Yale will leave him after the epidemic ends; al My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.Alternating between present-day Paris and '80s Chicago, The Great Believers explores the impact and aftermath of the AIDS epidemic on a close-knit group of friends living in Boystown. The novel tells three stories, through two perspectives. In the main plot, Yale Tishman struggles to cope with the illness and loss of his friends, and placate a jealous partner who fears Yale will leave him after the epidemic ends; all the while, Yale, the development director for an art gallery, tries to acquire several high-profile pieces from the great aunt of his best friend Fiona. The great aunt, Nora, knew a wide array of famous artists of the 1910s, who died suddenly and brutally in WWI, and over the course of the novel, the tragic stories of the older generation are indirectly paralleled with those of Yale and his friends. The final storyline follows Fiona as she tries to track down her estranged daughter in Paris and make sense of the fact that she, like Nora, has outlived all her closest friends from her twenties. By the end I wasn't convinced Nora or her friends needed to be in this novel. Her subplot slows the pace down, without adding much, and the connection between WWI and the AIDS epidemic is muddled at best. But passages of The Great Believers are heart wrenching, and Yale's story at least is well structured and affecting.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    I read this novel when it was first published in 2018 and I was gobsmacked by how spectacular every moment was -- and by the rich panorama Rebecca Makkah created of Chicago in the 1980s and Paris in 2015.I was so enamored with it and I missed the characters so much that last month I bought the audiobook so I could experience it once again.And I loved it even more. Michael Crouch's narration is spectacular: so many voices, all distinct, and he captured beautifully the rhythms of Makkah's prose -- I read this novel when it was first published in 2018 and I was gobsmacked by how spectacular every moment was -- and by the rich panorama Rebecca Makkah created of Chicago in the 1980s and Paris in 2015.I was so enamored with it and I missed the characters so much that last month I bought the audiobook so I could experience it once again.And I loved it even more. Michael Crouch's narration is spectacular: so many voices, all distinct, and he captured beautifully the rhythms of Makkah's prose -- and its moments of spectacular ebullience and hope, and then its tragic despair and wistfulness.My God, this book (and this audiobook) is a gem.
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019 FinalistWinner of the Carnegie Medal for FictionA global crisis that has taken the lives of 35,4 million people, changing the face of the world forever - no, this is not a dystopia, Rebecca Makkai wrote the Great American Novel about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which is ongoing; here's the latest data: http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fa...). The author introduces us to a circle of friends in mid-80's Chicago, many of them gay, and shows how HIV/AIDS imp Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019 FinalistWinner of the Carnegie Medal for FictionA global crisis that has taken the lives of 35,4 million people, changing the face of the world forever - no, this is not a dystopia, Rebecca Makkai wrote the Great American Novel about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which is ongoing; here's the latest data: http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fa...). The author introduces us to a circle of friends in mid-80's Chicago, many of them gay, and shows how HIV/AIDS impacts their lives. What makes this book particularly shocking is that it starts rather slow, but pretty quickly it becomes clear that what propels the story forward is the question who will die next - and as Makkai's characters are brilliantly drawn, psychologically covincing and vivid, it is heart-wrenching to read about their destinies. This main narrative is intersected with a second storyline that takes us and some of the surviving protagonists to Paris in 2010, thus showing how the past is never over and the dead never really vanish, which can be both consoling and haunting. Makkai's main character is Yale Tishman, a 31-year-old gay man who works at Northwestern's Brigg Gallery. His partner Charlie is the editor-in-chief of a gay magazine and an activist. When their friend Nico dies of AIDS, Yale is devastated, but still feels like he is safe from the disease. Soon though, the epidemic starts to ravage their circle of friends and Yale finds himself at the centre of a deadly storm.Throughout her novel, Makkai touches on many topics: There's the spread of fear that erodes human relationships ("You get afraid of one thing, and suddenly you're afrid of everything"), the questions of blame and guilt, the judgement and the stigma. There's also the disillusionment that comes with the fact that the AIDS crisis started when the gay community finally saw a window of opportunity in the fight for equal rights ("I thought it was the beginning of something. When it really was the end.").I particularly admired how Makkai manages to convey the enduring consequences of trauma and loss: Nico's grandmother Nora was part of the Lost Generation, and she used to be an artist and the muse of famous painters in Paris. Regarding her memory of those artists who died in or as a consequence of the war and could never develop their full potential, she remarks: "Every time I've gone to the gallery, the rest of my life, I've thought about the works that werent't there. Shadow-paintings, you know, that no one can see but you." The theme of ghosts is recurring throughout the novel, and the survivors of the beginning of the AIDS crisis - infected or not - are also a kind of lost generation, forced to deal with the memory of their friends who died gruesome deaths, and their own inability to help them. Makkai makes a point to also refer to 9/11 and the Bataclan attacks, large-scale events that fundamentally changed individual lives. The repercussions of such traumatic incidents are carried over generations: While Yale, who is Jewish, is named after his aunt Yael, Nico's sister Fiona names her daughter "Claire Yael", and Claire names her daughter Nicolette, apparently after Nico, the uncle who was taken from her before her birth - the shadows of the dead always remain visible. One consolation for the characters in the book is art and its ability to preserve, celebrate and commemorate - Nora makes the art work of dead artists visible, and the circle of friends from Chicago is immortalized by their surviving friend Richard, a photographer. And his photos are not the only place where they live on, because the human heart is "a palimpsest (...), the way things could be written over but never erased."
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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Jessica Jeffers
    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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  • Jaclyn Crupi
    January 1, 1970
    We get the day off to stay in bed and read big, brave and beautiful books. This is one of the year’s best and explores the realities and legacies of the AIDS epidemic through parallel narratives. It will make you fucking furious and it will instil deep faith in our shared humanity. It’s one of those great American novels that I love SO MUCH! My heart hurts and I feel profoundly altered. HOW CRAZY GOOD IS FICTION!?!? I honestly don’t know how people who don’t read get through this life.
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  • Jill
    January 1, 1970
    The carnage of the AIDS epidemic has been often mined by literary writers. Tim Murphy’s Christodora is an excellent example of a haunting novel that captures AIDS devastation and enduring legacy. But Tim Murphy is a white, male New Yorker who reported on HIV/AIDS for 20 years. I wondered: what would Rebecca Makkai, who is a straight Chicagoan and was very young at the height of the epidemic have to add to the wealth of literature already out there? As it turns out, quite a bit. I was astounded a The carnage of the AIDS epidemic has been often mined by literary writers. Tim Murphy’s Christodora is an excellent example of a haunting novel that captures AIDS devastation and enduring legacy. But Tim Murphy is a white, male New Yorker who reported on HIV/AIDS for 20 years. I wondered: what would Rebecca Makkai, who is a straight Chicagoan and was very young at the height of the epidemic have to add to the wealth of literature already out there? As it turns out, quite a bit. I was astounded at the power of this novel and at the emotions I felt towards her characters. The story is told from two time frames: the height of the epidemic in Chicago mid-1980s and 30 years later in Paris. In the first narrative, Yale, a Northwestern University museum fundraising director, is dealing with massive losses of friends to AIDS at the same time he is on the precipice of acquiring an art collection that will propel the reputation of his respected but small museum. In successive chapters, we meet Fiona, the sister of Yale’s friend Nico who dies early in the book, who has never overcome the AIDS holocaust and is trying to locate her estranged daughter.By focusing on AIDS in the heartland, Rebecca Makkai accomplishes something unique in AIDS literature: takes the focus away from the east and the west coast and showcases how AIDS ravages the smaller gay community in my hometown. For a Chicagoan, the book is particularly revelatory; the long-gone Chicago places of 1985 and 1986 are meticulously resurrected, demonstrating a passion on the author’s part to “get things right.”The characters – well, the characters could just walk off the pages and the insights are sublime. One of the characters says, “I think that’s the saddest thing in the world, the failure of love. Not hatred, but the failure of love.” By concentrating on the love and connection between characters rather than solely on the tragedy, the horror of the epidemic becomes even more real. When one character whom I had grown to love is found to have the AIDS virus, I shed real tears, feeling the impact of the loss. It takes a really great author to accomplish that in a reader.Whenever an author attempts to tell dual stories, he or she runs the risk of one overshadowing the other. Indeed, the 1980s narrative is the more compelling. Even so, Rebecca Makkai integrates her themes. In twinning the acquisition of the art collection from an elderly artist’s muse, this is said: “The war made us older than our parents. And when you’re older than your parents, what are you going to do? Who’s going to show you how to live?” Using the metaphor of AIDS as a war, it, too, decimated an entire generation and forced them to live on their own terms. The circle closes in on the Paris excerpts, when we view how the legacy of AIDS has never really left us, despite advances.I loved this book, which is, ultimately, about the struggle to love and connect amidst the chaos of the height of the AIDS era and in modern times. At a time when many authors are being accused of appropriation, this book should lay to rest that issue; ultimately, it is the voice and the story that matter.
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  • Jennifer Blankfein
    January 1, 1970
    Follow https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com for all reviews and recommendations.Chicago is the third largest city in the US and we rarely associate it with the AIDs epidemic, yet, the city and its people were deeply impacted by the then mysterious and untreatable, deadly disease. Rebecca Makkai set the story, The Great Believers in her beloved hometown and takes us through overwhelmingly emotional times as we witness deep friendships, brotherly camaraderie, romantic and platonic love, unwaverin Follow https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com for all reviews and recommendations.Chicago is the third largest city in the US and we rarely associate it with the AIDs epidemic, yet, the city and its people were deeply impacted by the then mysterious and untreatable, deadly disease. Rebecca Makkai set the story, The Great Believers in her beloved hometown and takes us through overwhelmingly emotional times as we witness deep friendships, brotherly camaraderie, romantic and platonic love, unwavering support and devastating depression and loss.It is 1985 Chicago, and Yale Tishman, the Director of Development at the new art gallery at Northwestern University is working on an exciting and valuable acquisition. His career in the art world is taking off at the same time AIDs has reared its’ ugly head and sadly, Yale loses his best friend Nico. Then, one after another his other friends and acquaintances are getting sick and dying. Yale tries to be a good friend to others as he grapples with his life and this dangerous disease that is making his social circle smaller and smaller. Nico’s loyal younger sister, Fiona is all he has left of his tight little community and they both struggle with the fears they face and the losses they have experienced.Author Rebecca Makkai alternates back and forth in time and jumping ahead, in 2015, Fiona goes to Paris in search of her daughter, who has run away and joined a cult. Their relationship is estranged and at best strained. During her search, Fiona stays with an artistic friend from her youth who has documented the 1980s AIDs crisis through art and has a show scheduled in Paris during her stay. Time in France gives Fiona opportunity to try and deal with the trauma of her past, the loss of her brother and his friends, and understand how it has affected her relationship with her daughter.Makkai has developed complete and complex characters that I feel like I know and truly care about. Her writing evokes overwhelming emotion and I love how the two time periods are weaved together through her compelling storytelling. Some people compare this book to A Little Life, and yes, both are gut wrenching and sad, but in The Great Believers there is a well researched overview of Chicago history and AIDs in the 1980s, a window into the art world, terrorism in 2015 Paris, so much love, friendship and family…a much warmer novel that combines the burden of memories with hope and positivity. I highly recommend this book – great for book clubs!
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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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  • Elyse Walters
    January 1, 1970
    Actress Mary-Louise Parker once said....“I think that no story is more dramatically interesting than to see someone fight a battle that is seemingly unwinnable”. The characters in “The Great Believers” were fighting for their lives.So much hopelessness..so much failure....LOSS! So much SADNESS! Friends had perpetrations with each other making it hard to be with ‘the one who was infected with AIDS...while they were ‘the chosen’ with the one who wasn’t.I remember this period of my life too....So.. Actress Mary-Louise Parker once said....“I think that no story is more dramatically interesting than to see someone fight a battle that is seemingly unwinnable”. The characters in “The Great Believers” were fighting for their lives.So much hopelessness..so much failure....LOSS! So much SADNESS! Friends had perpetrations with each other making it hard to be with ‘the one who was infected with AIDS...while they were ‘the chosen’ with the one who wasn’t.I remember this period of my life too....So.....That’s what stood out for me in this novel!!!! The HIV/AIDS community were frightened- suffering - fighting for their lives - dying off - one by one a battle that looked impossible to win. They were also fighting to be accepted.....receive compassion from family members - employees- neighbors- lovers - be respected with dignity- treated with humanity- locally - in their state - from law officers - and government. The rejection - isolation- shunning was rampant and it ‘still’ makes me angry! Yet.....I had a hard time with this novel. Oh... I care about the subject- deeply. I lived through it - as many my age did. I went to ‘celebration-life’ gatherings with friends - weeks before their death. Two of these friends who died were my ‘child’s teachers ...One was her voice teacher ...The other her Theater director. But for whatever reason....I didn’t stay with this novel diligently. I kept putting it aside to read other books.I wasn’t crazy about the flipping back and forth with the two stories - nor did I like them both equally the same. Some of it was just slow and a little dull...( god I feel bad saving that). I thought about a mini series called “When We Rise” about LBGT rights which also chronicles the history of the AIDS/HIV crisis with ‘very’ personal emotional stories - real lives - struggles & triumphs ...I connected deeper with that show much more than I did this book. Not sure why - I just did. Maybe because much was in the SF Bay Area? Not sure. I know it’s not fair to compare - And I’m not saying this book isn’t incredibly important...I simply had to press myself at times to stay interested engaged. It became one of those books I ‘wanted’ to love but didn’t! 3.5 .... 4 or 5 stars for appreciation...3 stars for enjoyment....Going with rating up...4 stars. My heart cares - that’s why!!!
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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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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    "And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone's life. Making room for someone in yours."These words brought me great comfort because reading "The Great Believers" is as close to a real haunting as I hope to come. The ghosts of my own past were very much present throughout the experience. Makkai describes an era with lingering, painful echoes for me and my generation. At "And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone's life. Making room for someone in yours."These words brought me great comfort because reading "The Great Believers" is as close to a real haunting as I hope to come. The ghosts of my own past were very much present throughout the experience. Makkai describes an era with lingering, painful echoes for me and my generation. At least half the time it took to read this novel was spent in personal reflection. I could replace most characters with people I have known intimately; tragically, but predictably, the vast majority died long ago. That loss of talent, creativity, intelligence, authenticity, beauty, and wit is profound.In 1987 my medical school covered HTLV-III and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in a one-hour lecture. Nine months later they dropped Nutrition and Embryology from the curriculum in order to make room for a new 3-week course devoted solely to all we suddenly knew about HIV and AIDS. In 1990 I was assigned my first AIDS patient on the wards. His name was so common, his case so advanced, and his appearance so altered that I did not recognize him as a high-school acquaintance - and our Class President - until he made bitter reference to our shared history. We had quite a bit more in common than an alma mater and John knew it. Why was he weeks from an ugly, humiliating death while I was apparently well on my way to a long and happy life? Almost thirty years later that question remains unanswered. Like I said: Haunted.Makkai deserves high praise for getting so much right: timeline, terminology, science, politics, and the gay party scene of days gone by. I'd say pretty much everything that matters in the 1985-1992 sections is spot-on or close enough to pass (no pun intended):Making one's way through a seemingly healthy, stable life, constantly wondering if the sniper that was AIDS would place you in its sites next.The pervasive fear and anxiety this generated, even when asleep.The insane joy of the promise of AZT and the sucker punch of its eventual failure to make a difference."Artistic tendencies" suddenly revealed to be an active gay lifestyle with obvious sexual experience once signs of the disease became apparent to those around you, stranger and friend alike.Spending more time at bedsides and gravesides than at common social occasions.Watching those in power blatantly ignore the plague in their midst until it started to affect straight white men.It is clear that Makkai did extensive, quality research for her story. My nagging reservation throughout was that it all felt filtered through younger eyes (which, of course, it is). So there is an immediacy that is lacking but which I suspect will only be noticeable to those who experienced this trauma up close and first-hand. And I cannot fault the author for that. My only other reservation is that the prevalence of bar-hopping, partner-swapping, cruising, hook-ups, willful duplicity, and alcohol and drug use felt cliche. There was greater diverity of experience even in the early days of the AIDS epidemic and I think the novel would have been that much stronger had that been represented, too. Replacing the Fiona-as-irritating-adult sections with such material would not have been a loss.For those with an interest in further reading (or watching), here are the works of fiction, non-fiction, and theatre that have been most powerful in my experience:And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. (Randy Shilts and HBO)My Own Country. (Abraham Verghese)Love! Valor! Compassion! (Terrance McNally and Krost/Chapin Productions)Lonely Planet. (Steven Dietz)The Normal Heart. (Larry Kramer)Jeffrey. (Paul Rudnick and Orion Classics)Angels In America. (Tony Kushner and HBO)The Dallas Buyers' Club. (Voltage Pictures)
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  • Marchpane
    January 1, 1970
    The Great Believers was a mixed bag for me, and I feel I should emphasise upfront that my 3-star rating is not an ‘all-over’ 3, but a result of ‘averaging out’ the excellent bits with the less successful aspects.The main storyline involves Yale Tishman, his boyfriend Charlie, their social circle, various hangers-on, and the wider gay community in Chicago at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It’s delicate subject matter but handled with great empathy, sensitivity and insight. The charac The Great Believers was a mixed bag for me, and I feel I should emphasise upfront that my 3-star rating is not an ‘all-over’ 3, but a result of ‘averaging out’ the excellent bits with the less successful aspects.The main storyline involves Yale Tishman, his boyfriend Charlie, their social circle, various hangers-on, and the wider gay community in Chicago at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It’s delicate subject matter but handled with great empathy, sensitivity and insight. The characters have depth, the story is compelling and achingly sad. This section is the book’s core. “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. And if you got it because you knew you could and you didn’t care, it’s a judgment on how much you hate yourself.” Two side plots, 100 years apart, both involve art, estrangement and Paris. These weren’t well integrated, and I think there was really only room for one of them. In both strands, much of the plot is conveyed through expository dialogue, so instead of the reader ‘witnessing’ events, we hear characters relating them in conversation. This technique is a bit baffling given there are already multiple timelines involved. Why not have a chapter with Nora in the 1920s? Or Fiona in the 1990s? Overall these side plots were less engaging, seemed rushed in parts, and drew focus away from Yale & Co, diluting the main story’s effect.Some narrative choices were odd too. One development was loudly telegraphed early on, but not revealed for ages, leaving me impatient for the characters to catch up. Another ‘reveal’ came out of the blue, in a way that felt unearned. Then late in the book, the build up to some key dramatic scenes was undermined by characters mentioning things in conversation before we get to see them unfold, thus robbing them of emotional impact. Simple, linear storytelling would have done the job much better.These structural complaints really aren’t deal breakers at all - it’s just that the main story is so powerful, it deserved to land with its full emotional weight. Crucially, The Great Believers gets it right when it matters most, and at those moments it is very moving indeed.
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  • Thomas
    January 1, 1970
    A good read that threads two timelines together: one follows a group of gay male friends affected by the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, the second centers Fiona, a mother searching for her estranged daughter in 2015. Fiona’s brother, a member of that gay group of friends, died as part of the AIDS epidemic and Fiona has carried the grief of his death and the deaths of his friends all her life. Despite its meandering pace, The Great Believers serves as a powerful story about AIDS and how it devas A good read that threads two timelines together: one follows a group of gay male friends affected by the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, the second centers Fiona, a mother searching for her estranged daughter in 2015. Fiona’s brother, a member of that gay group of friends, died as part of the AIDS epidemic and Fiona has carried the grief of his death and the deaths of his friends all her life. Despite its meandering pace, The Great Believers serves as a powerful story about AIDS and how it devastated the lives of gay men and those who cared about them.I found Yale and his friends’ perspectives the most compelling throughout the novel. As a gay man who has grown up in an era with more preventative care, treatment options, and overall awareness of HIV and AIDS, sometimes I take for granted the work of the activists who came before me to make my life so much more bearable. Rebecca Makkai does a great job of capturing the consequences of the administration that ignored queer people’s need for healthcare and as a result buried many of us alive. Instead of presenting a one-sided image of these gay men, she imbues their relationships with complexity. I appreciated the snippets of Yale’s emotional experiences, like his heartbreak and anger at Charlie, his neediness and insecurity that manifested with Roman, as well as that relationship that could have almost been with another character at the end of the book. I most loved the quiet, consistent solidarity between him and Fiona, the power of their friendship throughout so many much suffering and death. As someone who’s estranged from my parents for the most part, I connected a lot with Yale’s reliance and closeness with his friends, his chosen family.As much as I admired Fiona as a compassionate friend and a three-dimensional character, I felt that her storyline in 2015 did detract from the pacing and power of the 1980s plot. On one hand, not including her 2015 perspective may have made the novel more appropriative, as Makkai identifies as straight. I also feel unsure about whether Yale’s perspective could have carried the whole weight of a novel on its own, even though I liked Yale a lot. On the other hand, Fiona’s whole conflict with her daughter felt secondary and almost unnecessary compared to Yale’s point of view. This issue of pacing and delivery of the story made me feel more lukewarm on The Great Believers on the whole. Still, a decent read that I hope paves the way for more queer books, especially books written by actual queer people, in particular queer people of color and those at the margins of the queer community. For more adult fiction queer reads, I’d recommend The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihiara, and The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara.
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  • Trudie
    January 1, 1970
    * 3.5 *I normally set to writing my impressions of a book directly after finishing it, unfortunately for The Great Believers I read it partly on holiday and now find myself struggling to get enthusiastic about writing this review. It is just one of those books I was totally engrossed with while reading but a week or so later, it hasn't made the long-lasting impression I thought it might. The Great Believers is as they say "compulsively readable". I thought it particularly propulsive in the first * 3.5 *I normally set to writing my impressions of a book directly after finishing it, unfortunately for The Great Believers I read it partly on holiday and now find myself struggling to get enthusiastic about writing this review. It is just one of those books I was totally engrossed with while reading but a week or so later, it hasn't made the long-lasting impression I thought it might. The Great Believers is as they say "compulsively readable". I thought it particularly propulsive in the first half where Makkai sets us up with an engaging group of characters living in Chicago in the early 80s. The outbreak of the AIDs epidemic is set to cut a swathe through these young men with consequences that will reverberate through the decades. It is an emotionally tough story and the author handles this 1980s material very well. From the NYT review by Michael Cunningham : The Great Believers” is, as far as I know, among the first novels to chronicle the AIDS epidemic from its initial outbreak to the present — among the first, that is, to convey the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years as well as its course and its repercussions over the decades. Makkai puts the epidemic (which, of course, has not yet ended) into historical perspective without distancing it or blunting its horrors. Which is perhaps why it was a little disappointing when Makkai lost me by adding in a second narrative strand, set in 2015 and about the search for a missing daughter. Both these stories do knit together but as often happens to me with multiple narratives, I resented being pulled out from the most interesting tale into something rather ho-hum. My GR friend Maggie has written a great critique of the problems with pacing and storytelling that these dual narratives cause and so I direct you to her eloquent analysis hereDespite all this, I still greatly enjoyed and learnt much from The Great Believers . In the acknowledgements, Makkai says she hopes this book will encourage readers to search out the interviews and documentaries she used while writing this novel ( her website is a good resource for this) and indeed my interest in reading and learning more was certainly piqued.
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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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  • 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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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    (4.5) I really think Rebecca Makkai is one of the best writers currently working. Each of her books has been a significant step up from the last: I really liked The Hundred-Year House; Music for Wartime contained one of the best short stories I've ever read; and The Great Believers is so mature, rich and accomplished it feels like the crowning achievement of a decades-long literary career. (If the evidence wasn't staring me in the face, I would never have believed this and The Borrower were (4.5) I really think Rebecca Makkai is one of the best writers currently working. Each of her books has been a significant step up from the last: I really liked The Hundred-Year House; Music for Wartime contained one of the best short stories I've ever read; and The Great Believers is so mature, rich and accomplished it feels like the crowning achievement of a decades-long literary career. (If the evidence wasn't staring me in the face, I would never have believed this and The Borrower were written by the same person, less than a decade apart. Now that is an inspiring glow-up.)And – do you ever read a book and think: this is a proper novel? Something to chew on, to savour, to take your time over. A treat. The Great Believers is like that.It kicks off in Chicago circa 1985, with a couple – Yale and Charlie – at the wake of their friend Nico, dead at a horribly young age because of what is only just beginning to be understood as AIDS. One of the guests is Nico's little sister, Fiona; she's cut herself off from her family because of their refusal to accept Nico's sexuality or allow his friends to attend his funeral. Then we skip forward 30 years. In 2015, Fiona is in Paris, trying to track down her daughter Claire. She believes Claire is either involved with or has run away from a cult. The evidence that's brought her there – a fleeting video clip found online – also suggests Fiona has a granddaughter she knows nothing about.I was thoroughly gripped by everything in 1985. Makkai's writing about a community in the grip of the AIDS crisis is both powerful and painful; she handles the material sensitively. Yet the accompanying saga, about Yale's art-gallery job and a bequest from Fiona's great-aunt Nora, is no less compelling. Nora's art collection and the story behind it, the questions of whether Yale will secure the bequest and, later, whether it will be exhibited according to Nora's wishes: these are surprisingly gripping threads. Yale is such a wonderfully realised character that whatever he's doing – arguing with Charlie, fretting about work, helplessly watching his friends get sick – you're right there alongside him.Unfortunately, the Paris chapters can't quite live up to their Chicago counterparts. In particular, I was frustrated by the addition of Jake, a character whose primary function seems to be to annoy the reader. I couldn't understand why Fiona didn't just tell him to fuck off. I also hoped there would be more exploration of the cult Claire had escaped from. Thank god for Fiona, whose presence (as with Yale's in the 1985 segments) glues everything together. Scarred by her past, suffering from survivor's guilt, the irony of her estrangement from Claire is not lost on her. She's made mistakes, but her quest for reconciliation is something we can sympathise with.Of course, the structure is such that it leaves us, for a long time, in the dark as to Yale's fate. This could come off as manipulative, but in Makkai's hands it doesn't. Yale is too real for anything that befalls him to feel cheap. The Great Believers sometimes reminded me of Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room: both novels are inspired by real experiences, but while Kushner's novel often slips into trite/disingenuous territory, Makkai's walks the line between fact and fiction effortlessly.I was holding back tears for the last 50 pages. That... list. That chapter that is a list. If you've read it you know what I mean. The thing that happens at the protest. Roscoe's last visit. The final dream.The Great Believers is incredibly moving, but it's also just an excellent piece of writing, a brilliantly plotted and written novel. It's not perfect, but it's pretty close. And a wonderful first book of the year!I received an advance review copy of The Great Believers from the publisher through Edelweiss.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    I started out listening to this book on Audible. Then I got the hardback at the library because I wanted to see the words. Then I bought it on Kindle so I could see the words at night.I wanted to climb inside this gorgeous book and live in it. I did live in it. I'm still living in it.Incredible!
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    “We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.” F. Scott FitzgeraldFitzgerald refers to the Lost Generation of post-WWI. Here, in Makkai’s lovingly written historical fiction novel, she pays homage to the ‘lost generation’ of brilliant, young gay men who succumbed to AIDS in Chicago in the 1980s and 90s. She thoroughly researched the era by in “We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.” F. Scott FitzgeraldFitzgerald refers to the Lost Generation of post-WWI. Here, in Makkai’s lovingly written historical fiction novel, she pays homage to the ‘lost generation’ of brilliant, young gay men who succumbed to AIDS in Chicago in the 1980s and 90s. She thoroughly researched the era by interviewing doctors, nurses, activists, journalists, lawyers, survivors, and people who lived in Chicago in Boystown in the 80s who were gay and out. The result is a chronicle of the beginnings of the epidemic when being HIV-positive was a death sentence to a decade later when drug protocols were more effective in treating the disease.Makkai brings this period to life with an assortment of wonderfully drawn characters. We begin to meet them at the funeral of Nico Markus. Yale is there and his partner, Charlie. So is the budding photographer Richard Campo. Nico’s sister Fiona is also there. She feels the loss acutely and uses her friendships with Nico’s gay friends as a way to hold close his memory.The author swings back-and-forth from this period to 2015, thirty years later. Here we find Fiona in Paris trying to reconnect with her daughter Clare. Fiona is a woman who gave a lot of love to the men who were dying in Chicago, and burned herself out. She is just now realizing how she may have short-changed her daughter while Clare was growing up. Will Clare allow her mother to become a part of her life now?Richard Campo also lives in Paris. He is now a famous photographer and is preparing for a show featuring some of his photographs taken in Chicago during the height of the epidemic.But it is Yale’s story that we are most invested in. He is a sensitive, earnest young man working for Northwestern and is helping to procure a major art donation from an elderly woman living in Wisconsin. Apparently, she modeled for many artists in Paris during the period before-and-after the Great War. Many of these artists died during the war and shortly afterwards resulting in an artistic ‘lost generation’.Through Yale, Makkai tracks the euphoria many of these gay men felt when they could be open about their sexual preference and later faced the horrible disease where society and even the medical community treated them as pariahs.Highly recommend.
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  • Mandy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fictional book based on the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 80s/90s. I won this off of a Good Reads give-a-way. This is a beautiful and sorrowful book of love, family, and friendship. We see this story through two narratives, one during the 80s/90s and one more current. There is some criticism about the more current story line, but I enjoyed both. I think that they fit well together in ways and we see things from different points of view. I got through this book quickly and wanted to j This is a fictional book based on the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 80s/90s. I won this off of a Good Reads give-a-way. This is a beautiful and sorrowful book of love, family, and friendship. We see this story through two narratives, one during the 80s/90s and one more current. There is some criticism about the more current story line, but I enjoyed both. I think that they fit well together in ways and we see things from different points of view. I got through this book quickly and wanted to just keep reading and reading. I laughed and I cried. 4.5 rounded up to 5 stars.
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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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