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The Great Believers (2018)

by Rebecca Makkai

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,9461088,362 (4.28)256
-- 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 chronicle the decimation of a generation of young men as seen close up: from WWI in Testament of Youth and the ravages of AIDS in the 1980s in The Great Believers
  2. 00
    Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 (Graphic Medicine) by MK Czerwiec (DetailMuse)
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» See also 256 mentions

English (101)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (108)
Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
4.25 ( )
  eenie816 | Jan 12, 2024 |
I'm sobbing, because this is a beautiful but sad illumination of the era - and some of the plot hit a bit close to home in terms of lived experience. Highly recommend... ( )
  decaturmamaof2 | Nov 22, 2023 |
(51) I am late to the party with this novel - somehow I had never heard of it though it won awards and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2019. I loved her recent 'I Have Some Questions for You,' but this was nothing like that. This is a story of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the late 1980's and then the current day (2015) life of a woman who was an ally of a close knit group of young men who were stricken one by one - friends of her older brother, Nico, whose memorial opens the novel. Fiona nursed them all and now years later is trying to pick up the pieces of her life in Paris. Our sweet protagonist, Yale Tishman, is a 20-something gay man, newly employed as a fundraiser for Northwestern's art museum. He is on the cusp of everything good in life - love, success, he even sees a house he may like to buy in a city he has come to love with his "chosen family." He just had his first friend die from AIDS, but he and his love Charlie, Chicago's gay newspaper editor, have tested negative. Yale is a delight - the effortless contextual details Makkai weaves into his characterization are stellar.

I was about a decade younger than this 'lost generation' - but remember news reports about GRID. And I was in medical training by the mid-90's and saw the devastation of PML encephalopathy, CMV colitis, PCP pneumonia, toxoplasmosis in young people - men and women by that time. There were meds to stall progression and stave off infection but still and always a positive test was a death sentence. I remember the days of needing a signed permission form and in person pre and post test counseling - because maybe you don't want to know....I rotated for a month at San Francisco general hospital in the mid 90's. The book 'And the Band Played On' was devastating to me. So I was moved by this book, despite not having lost any friends or relatives. I don't think it was as tightly written as 'Questions.' Fiona baffled me and her parts dragged on for me. What was the point of the drunk guy on the plane? The French detective and breaking in to the apartment? Why invest the energy in that anti-climactic storyline. Her parts in 2015 with her daughter and the cult seemed out of place and irrelevant. I think if you had to toggle back & forth time, comparing and contrasting Nora and Ranko's perspective from the WW1 'lost generation' circa 1920's artists in Paris may have had more thematic integrity. The 2015 parts prevent a higher rating, because otherwise I fell in love with Yale and his life.

The author says at the end that she kept thinking of things that she wanted to tell Yale and that at the conclusion of the novel she felt like she had lost a friend. I can see that. She is a talented writer that walks a tightrope of literary, accessible, and engaging fiction all at the same time. Pulitzer finalist with a book-club pick bestseller vibe at the same time. This one made my heart heavy -- what a tragic waste. ( )
  jhowell | Oct 8, 2023 |
A breathtaking novel about the intricate facets of love and friendship during times of turbulence and turmoil, alternating between 1980s Chicago and present day Paris. ( )
  cbwalsh | Sep 13, 2023 |
The Great Believers is an epic that covers the AIDS crisis, the Art World, and parenting. It takes place in Chicago (1985-1990) and Paris (2015). The sprawling themes weaken the engrossing relationships that try to move the plot along. The multitude of characters also dissipates our focus. We follow the Yale as he deals with his boyfriend Charlie, friends dying and worries about his own health. His best friend is Fiona, sister Nico. Nico is the first AIDS death we witness in the novel. The author waits until the end of the novel for us to “fall in love” with Fiona and for me that backfires. Rebecca Makkai stuns us with her use of language and metaphors. The emotional tug gets a bit lost until revelations in the last section. I wanted to wrap myself up with this novel because it holds an emotional resonance with me. Alas except for a few stunning moments I can't give this a 100% must read ( )
  GordonPrescottWiener | Aug 24, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 101 (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.
 

» Add other authors

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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