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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
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The Great Believers (2018)

by Rebecca Makkai

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8385617,745 (4.32)176
"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)
  1. 00
    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 176 mentions

English (56)  German (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
This novel started slow, but the different strands of the story started to come together about midway through. Set amidst the 1980s, with AIDS ravaging the gay community, this novel includes a lot of death, strained family relations, and complicated love. And perhaps because of reading this novel during another pandemic, I particularly noticed how outsiders treated members of the heavily affected gay community and the myths at war with the known science of the virus (and, of course, the HIV virus is even better understood now than it was in the 1980s). This is a good read, but with the themes of death and family tension, it's not easy or light. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | May 16, 2020 |
4.5 stars. This one drew me in slowly, and I spent the last two nights staying up far too late so I could finish it. ( )
  ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
This is a strange situation for me because, frankly, I was considering giving this a five-star rating, because it did emotionally impact me greatly while I was reading, but I just have too many criticisms of it to give it the full five.

Five-star ratings are reserved for books where the criticisms I have didn't affect my enjoyment, and with this book, they did affect my enjoyment and my immersion in the story.

First of all, this book couldn't stop giving itself away. I knew every important beat of this book way before we got to it because the hints were just so obvious and it made the twists not really... twists at all. Some of these were given away in Yale's perspective, but many were given away in Fiona's.

Second, I don't think Fiona's perspective was necessary at all. I didn't give a single flying fuck about Claire, to be honest, and I don't think it added anything to the story. In fact, all it served to do was distract me from the main story taking place in Yale's POV up until the final chapter. I did love the way the book closed in Fiona's point of view, but up until that I didn't care for her timeline at all and I just kept getting frustrated whenever a 1986 chapter ended and suddenly we're in 2015 with Fiona looking for her daughter who I haven't got a single reason to care about. I cared more about Nico than Claire, and Nico dies before the book even starts. Most of Fiona's chapters could have been taken out of the book and it'd be the same story, maybe even a better story.

Still, I loved this. It's not a 5-star book, but it did make me tear up at multiple points. Some of the things would have impacted me more had I not guessed them ahead of time, but I was still emotionally affected. I really enjoyed Makkai's writing style; it was immersive without being overwritten. I so enjoyed Yale as a character and I loved that it was his eyes through which this story played out. He was perfectly imperfect.

The main plot, a group of friends living through the AIDS crisis in 1980s Boystown, was somewhat predictable, yet despite its predictability, I won't stop thinking about it how it all played out for a while. I won't stop thinking about Yale's story for a long time. Even now I'm considering giving it 5-stars just for that. This book is 100% worth the read despite its flaws, and I highly recommend it. ( )
  yvonnekins | Apr 14, 2020 |
This book was beautiful and just so, so deeply wrenching. It took me way longer to finish than I thought because it was really emotionally draining. Makkai manages to balance these really beautiful and artistic moments with the more mundane and also the dramas of relating to and being in relation with one another.

I don't know, I'm having such a hard time articulating it; it was so difficult for me to read, and yes ultimately worth it. The story flowed really well and the jumping between time periods wasn't confusing at all. It just was a hard read. ( )
  aijmiller | Apr 3, 2020 |
„Sie hatte so viele Schuldgefühle, wenn sie an ihre Freunde zurückdachte – sie wünschte, sie hätte einige von ihnen überredet, sich früher testen zu lassen, wünschte, sie könnte die Zeit zurückdrehen (...)“

2015, Fiona sucht nach ihrer Tochter, schon seit Jahren hatte sie keinen Kontakt mehr zu ihr, jetzt gibt es Hinweise darauf, dass sie sich in Paris aufhalten könnte. Während der Suche quartiert sie sich bei ihren alten Freunden ein, die sie schon in den 80er Jahren kannte, als es in Chicago eine Gruppe von jungen Künstlern gab, vorwiegend Männer und schwul, die nicht nur die Liebe zur Kunst teilten, sondern auch die Angst vor dem noch unbekannten, todbringenden Virus, der nach und nach den Kreis der Freunde dezimierte, unter anderem auch Fionas Bruder Nico und ihren guten Freund Yale. Zwischen Erinnerungen an die damalige Zeit und der Nachforschungen nach Claire muss sich Fiona der Frage stellen, was sie in ihrem Leben richtig und falsch gemacht hat und vor allem, wie sie die Verbindung zu ihrer eigenen Tochter verlieren konnte.

Rebecca Makkais dritter Roman gehörte 2018 zu einem der erfolgreichsten Bücher des Jahres und war unter anderem Finalist für den Pulitzer Prize in der Kategorie Fiction. Es ist eine berauschende Geschichte, die voller Leben und voller Leben in Angst vor dem Tod ist. Viele Figuren existieren nur noch in der Erinnerung und gleichzeitig fällt es jenen, die zeitgleich leben schwer, zueinander zu finden. Auf mehreren Ebenen angesiedelt – 2015 sucht Fiona nach ihrer Tochter in Paris, 1985 lebt die Kunst-Clique in Chicago, Nora erinnert sich an die Zeit der 1920er in Paris im Kreis der großen Maler und Autoren – zeigen sich wiederkehrende Verhaltensweisen und das Leben in Angst wird gespiegelt. Das verbindende Element ist fraglos die Kunst, denn diese überdauert und kann gestern wie heute Emotionen auslösen, Momente konservieren und vergessene Episoden wieder aus den Tiefen des Gedächtnisses hervorbringen.

Sowohl die Nachwehen des 1. Weltkrieges wie auch die Anschläge auf das Bataclan 2015 sind nur die Leinwand, auf der die Handlung und das Lebensgefühl gezeichnet werden. Sie verschwinden unter dem Leben der Figuren, verblassen und bilden nur mehr einen Schatten. Ganz anders sieht die Bedrohung durch das noch unbekannte und damit unkontrollierbare AIDS Virus der 1980er Jahre aus. Dieses lässt sich nicht verdrängen oder übermalen, geradezu übermächtig bestimmt es immer wieder die Gedankenwelt der Figuren und lässt sich nur kurz vergessen, um zu leben.

Eine ausdrucksstarke Erzählung, die mich stark an Donna Tartt oder auch Paul Auster erinnert. „Die Optimisten“ steht durch und durch in der Tradition der Great American Novel, denn Makkai fängt überzeugend den Geist und das Lebensgefühl der 80er Jahre Kunstszene ein. Zwischen einerseits großer Begeisterung für die Malerei oder auch Fotografie und Film und andererseits der lähmenden Angst vor der unheilbaren Immunschwäche, liefern sich Leben und Sterben einen Wettkampf, der jedoch das irdische Dasein überdauert und sowohl in den Werken, der Erinnerung wie auch in den Nachkommen letztlich fortbesteht.

Vielschichtig und komplex, dabei wunderbar erzählt – ein Buch, das tief bewegt. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Mar 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (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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"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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