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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers

by Rebecca Makkai

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2661662,689 (4.36)39
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» See also 39 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Emotional novel exploring fighting wars of all kinds and survivor's guilt. I'm glad Makkai addressed the notion of appropriation in her notes, because at times I felt it could have veered a little in that direction but I think it very tastefully stayed on the right side of the line. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
The Great Believers is about a group of gay men in Chicago in the 1980s and how their lives are devastated by the AIDS crisis. It also flashes forward to the present day and the life of Fiona, the sister of Nico, one of the men in the group who succumbed to the disease. She was good friends with all the men in the group and watched a lot of them die one by one. That experience profoundly affected her life and she still grapples with it. At the same time, she’s on a mission to find her adult daughter, who ran away to join a cult.

The main character in the 1980s is Yale. He’s the type of man who is so sweet and kind that it made my heart hurt anytime something even remotely bad happened to him. He works for an art museum and is trying to get an elderly lady to donate her art collection without her greedy relatives interfering.

This book is a sweeping epic with many intricately intertwining threads. The characters were complicated and well-drawn and there were a few surprising twists. The author did extensive research and although the story is fictional, the events surrounding the evolution of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago are real. It’s heartbreaking how horrible victims were treated back then, even by health care professionals. If Rebecca Makkai’s previous novels are even half as wonderful as The Great Believers, then I will gobble them up. The Great Believers is a National Book Award finalist and is on all sorts of best books of 2018 lists. It deserves it all. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. ( )
  mcelhra | Jan 9, 2019 |
An immersive and heartbreaking book to read, particularly as someone who lived in Chicago during the time period in question. A perfect epic particularly suited to read in mid-winter, when one has time to sit in front of the fire and lose yourself for an afternoon or a day. ( )
  kittykitty3 | Jan 5, 2019 |
I lost my brother to complications from the AIDS virus in 1993. He was 38 years old and eight years younger than me. It was a harrowing time for my family and one I wouldn’t want to relive so when I heard about this book and its concentration on the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the late 80s I didn’t really think I’d ever read it. It was just too close to home, too much of a return to a traumatic time and just too too hard. But for some reason I kept coming back to it, again and again and when I noticed it on several end of the year Best Books of 2018 lists I thought, why not? Maybe I’ll learn something or maybe it will help to settle something for me.

What I found was a book brimming with both sadness, which I expected, and hope, which surprised me. The young gay men in the story were all ambitious, smart, loving human beings dealing with the horrific loss of their friends and the probability of their own death with admirable courage and grace. The way in which the author depicted these characters makes me wonder if she had some personal connection to someone with AIDS because they were all so well-drawn.

There are two timeframes: 1986-92 and 2015 when Fiona, the sister of the first victim we encounter in the narrative, Nico, goes to Paris in search of her estranged daughter and stays with one of the survivors of the crisis that she knew in Chicago. In doing so she is forced to come to terms with her past and effect the crisis had on her and her ability to establish a good relationship with her daughter, who was born as one of the main characters lays dying in the AIDS ward of the hospital where Fiona’s baby is being born. As she looks back on her life the realization of the power the AIDS crisis had on her becomes apparent.

Powerful, important and compassionate I think this is a book everyone should read. ( )
  brenzi | Jan 1, 2019 |
I was struck by how well this novel wove together not only the two timelines that actually appear on the page, but also Paris of around the time of the Great War, which we see only through the memories of a woman in the 1980s timeline.
  Unreachableshelf | Dec 23, 2018 |
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...there’s a lot going on in The Great Believers, and while Makkai doesn’t always manage to make all the plates spin perfectly, she remains thoughtful and consistent throughout about the importance of memory and legacy, and the pain that can come with survival.
added by ablachly | editThe Guardian, Ben East (Aug 20, 2018)
Makkai finds surprising resonances across time and experience, offering a timely commentary on the price of memory and the role of art in securing legacies at risk of being lost.
“The Great Believers” offers a grand fusion of the past and the present, the public and the personal. It’s remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses. And it’s right on target in addressing how the things that the world throws us feel gratuitously out of step with the lives we think we’re leading.
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"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 Makkai In 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"--… (more)

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