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The Great Believers (2018)

by Rebecca Makkai

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,5109510,273 (4.31)216
-- 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)
  1. 10
    Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (bjappleg8)
    bjappleg8: Both books describe the decimation of a generation of young men as seen close up: from WWI in Testament of Youth and in The Great Believers the ravages of AIDS in the 1980s.
  2. 00
    Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 (Graphic Medicine) by MK Czerwiec (DetailMuse)
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» See also 216 mentions

English (89)  German (2)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (94)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Loved this book even though it was so very sad. With two timelines - one in the 80's and one in the 2010's it dealt with the AIDS crisis and the ongoing devastating effect it had on so many. The characters were very well created and the story well told. Highly recommended. ( )
  tinkerbellkk | Dec 2, 2022 |
This book which is about the HIV/AIDS crisis brought back so many memories of good friends who died much too soon. One of the first that I personally knew was a young man who had just finished up his MBA and started a new job when he was diagnosed with AIDS. He died within a year from the diagnosis. That was in 1987, thirty-five years ago. Who knows what he would have achieved? I remember being incensed at a meeting of a charitable group where we were discussing areas to focus on in the coming years and when the HIV/AIDS crisis was mentioned one man said "It's just a few gay men; it's not worth focusing on that." Of course, now we know that men and women, straight and LGBTQ+, black, white, Asian, indigenous and people of all shades of colour were affected by this virus (and still are) but even if it was just gay men why would we let that happen if it could be prevented?

This book has two time lines: Chicago in the late 1980s and Paris in 2015. The Chicago time line focuses on a group of friends living in Boys Town, the gay ghetto. Yale Tishman is employed by a small gallery to drum up financial support. His lover is Charlie who runs a small publication for the LGBT crowd. The book opens just after a talented gay man named Nico has died of AIDS and his friends gather to remember him because they aren't welcome at his official funeral. Nico's younger sister, Fiona, comes to this gathering as she has become friends with them while she helped care for Nico in his last days. Fiona passes on Yale's name to an elderly relative who lived in Paris before and after WWI and acquired drawings and paintings from some of the artists, such as Modigliani, who have since become famous. She wants to pass these works on to the gallery but with the requirement that they be exhibited as a whole and not broken up. Yale journeys to her home in remote Wisconsin a numbr of times and is successful in acquiring the art for the gallery. Shortly after the woman's son creates a fuss because the collection is worth quite a bit of money, the only worth of it to him. Yale is let go and for some time is adrift because he has also broken up with Charlie when he discovered he had been unfaithful. In the 2015 time line Fiona, now a mother, is in Paris to find her daughter who has disappeared from her life for some years. A short video sent to her by a friend shows her daughter painting on a bridge in Paris and on that slim evidence Fiona leaves Chicago for Paris. In Paris she stays with a man who was also part of the Chicago group from the 1980s who has gone on to become a famous photographer. He has an opening soon which will display some photographs and videos from that time period. Fiona looks forward to seeing those images but at the same time dreads it because that was a harrowing time for her. Also, her search for her daughter is paramount. Through Fiona we experience the grief and guilt that all survivors of a traumatic time feel.

This was a great book to listen to. The narrator, Michael Crouch, did a superb job in conveying the emotions in both sections. Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Nov 6, 2022 |
Dual timeline narrative that tells a story of Chicago’s gay community in the mid-1980s and early-1990s and shows what has happened in the lives of several characters thirty years later. As the story opens, in 1985, Yale is attending a post-funeral gathering for his friend, Nico, who has died of AIDS. He works as an art museum executive at Northwestern. In a major subplot, he is approached by an eighty-something woman with a collection of art she wants to donate to the museum. In the 2015 timeline, Nico’s sister, Fiona, is in Paris to search for a family member. She is staying with a friend, Richard, who has ties to her brother and is a famous photographer. While she is there, she plans to attend Richard’s AIDS-related photo exhibition.

This book is a character study that takes a compassionate look at the ravages of the AIDS epidemic. It effectively portrays the randomness of the disease and survivor’s guilt for those that make it through. Makkai’s writing is eloquent and her characters are believable. I felt particularly fond of Yale. I became immersed in the storylines. I preferred the 1985 narrative over 2015 but I think the latter was needed to keep the book from becoming too depressing. The dual timelines are knit together elegantly. I knew this book would be sad, and it was, but I am glad I read it.

4.5
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Drawing interesting parallels between the experiences of Great Aunt Nora with her group of artist friends and acquiantances in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and Fiona in the mid-to-late 1980s with her friends and her brother's friends in Chicago—how you deal being a survivor and remembering those lost or completely changed by their experiences—the main storylines in this book follow Fiona looking for her estranged daughter in Paris in 2015, and Yale in the 1980s through a project of acquiring art for his university gallery from Nora, and through great tumult and devastation in his personal and professional relationships. ( )
  mari_reads | Oct 3, 2022 |
A little long....trouble with so many characters, but good story. Great main character --very sad, of course. ( )
  mlhershey | Sep 19, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
...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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Makkai, Rebeccaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crouch, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"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 Fitzgerald, "My Generation"

"the world is a wonder, but the portions are small"
-- Rebecca Hazelton, "Slash Fiction"
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Twenty miles from here, twenty miles north, the funeral mass was starting.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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-- 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.

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