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The Great Believers (2018)

by Rebecca Makkai

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1377512,870 (4.29)198
"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)
Recently added byjobinsonlis, tlwright, Roses84, WXC89, hazel1123, private library, WXC789, wxc777
  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 198 mentions

English (72)  German (2)  All languages (74)
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Makkai did her research and nicely captured the sentiments, dynamics, and fears spinning out of the 80’s AIDS crisis in the US gay community. But I found Fiona’s narrative to be somewhat contrived, with far too much psychotherapy 101 and drawn out reveals. She didn’t give the reader room to come to their own conclusions as to what motivated characters, telling us too bluntly how they came to feel what they felt. I spent a lot of time being angry at the characters for their pettiness and cowardly choices. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
The Great Believers is a memorable novel, for both the brutal times it portrayed in Chicago, and the beautifully drawn characters it introduced. It had two timelines, one from the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, as well as a follow-up of some of the characters in 2015. It was a very powerful telling of the loves and many losses of the book’s characters in the eighties, and the desperate and sharply divided politics of those times. It’s a very tough book to read at times, as it seems that the characters were always close to losing someone else.

Adding another fascinating 1980s storyline, Yale and his friend Fiona find themselves central to discovering a major collection of 1920s Parisian art—possibly worth millions—hidden away with Nora (Fiona’s aunt), an elderly lady in Michigan. In the Paris of the twenties, Nora worked as a model for Amedeo Modigliani, Fernand Léger, and Tsuguharu Foujita, among others, and her payment was an occasional piece of art by the then struggling artists.

Yale works for a gallery at Northwestern University and this find could (if authentic) put them on the map. Using the Fiona connection, Yale’s team works with the generous Nora, and tries to avoid the rather hostile heirs. A curious part of the story is that there are a few simple works by a completely unknown artist (Ranko Novak) that Nora insists be displayed in any exhibition of these artists. Sadly, by the time the works are exhibited, Nora has died, and Yale—who had promised that Nora’s love Novak would be included—has been removed from the project.

The 80s crisis took a serious toll on the relationship between Yale and his lover Charlie, who worked an independent newspaper, as well as Fiona and her estranged daughter Claire. Fiona becomes more central to the 2015 story, as she returns to Paris to search for the lost Claire, who had joined a cult, and then moved on.

It will be a rare person who can read this book without remembering the anger, despair, fear, and ignorance of those times. The book is difficult to read at times, but it is stunning, and you’ll carry its story and characters with you for some time. ( )
  jphamilton | Mar 23, 2021 |
I am writing this review a day after those twelve Thai boys were rescued from an underwater cave. A riveting story that captured everyone’s attention.

One of the scenes from this epic novel takes place on the day the Challenger Space Shuttle crashed killing everyone on board. That was also a story that got everyone’s attention.

This is an important novel. A great novel. It has been reviewed by everyone. I don’t think I can improve on Michael Cunningham’s review in the NY Times. I can offer my thoughts and feelings as a straight white male who was 34 in 1985 – roughly the same age as Makkai’s protagonist, Yale Tishman. And I was living in the same city – Chicago.

I remember clearly where I was when the Challenger crashed. And I was aware of the AIDS epidemic – everyone was – but that was something happening to other people, and they lived someplace else and anyways I was busy living my life. It is painful and shameful to admit that.

So Makkai has told this great story. It’s tragic but not all gloom and doom. It is a seriously compelling page turner, with acts of bravery, devotion and love. There is a lot of love in this book. And the characters – Yale, Charlie, Fiona – and a raft of others – are heartbreakingly real. Late in the book, when one of the characters learns he has the virus there is an entire chapter of his observations on all the things he had imagined for his life that would never be. Like a 25th high school reunion.

As I close in on my 50th high school reunion I think about that. A lot.


( )
  LenJoy | Mar 14, 2021 |
What a rich, tender, heartwarming, engrossing story. It tells the story of the early 1980's AIDS crisis through the eyes of gay men living in Chicago. The characters are deeply human . I loved them all. Into the story is woven Fiona who is part of the present around 2015 and when story begins in the 1980s. Also her aunt who wants to leave some art to a small gallery and that story gives us Yale's story.
I really liked this novel. ( )
  Smits | Mar 2, 2021 |
The main story is Boystown, the gay neighborhood in Chicago in the height of the AIDS crisis. Echoes in Paris, past and present. Beautiful characters and writing. ( )
  GwenRino | Feb 2, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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"--

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