SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
A NEW YORK TIMES Selection for BEST 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK
A PICK FOR THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S 2018 BEST BOOKS
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY GIFT FOR READERS
“A page turner...An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis. "—The New York Times Book Review
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 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The AIDS crisis may no longer be front-page news, but its reverberations are still painful. Chapter by chapter, The Great Believers alternates between two intrinsically linked characters: a thoughtful, intelligent art-gallery director living in ’80s Chicago and a mother searching for her estranged child in Paris three decades later. Rebecca Makkai’s beautiful, moving novel paints a nuanced portrait of a devastating epidemic and the lifelong impacts it had on those who made it through, no one truly unscathed.
Spanning 30 years and two continents, the latest from Makkai (Music for Wartime) is a striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors. In 1985 Chicago, 30-something Yale Tishman, a development director at a fledgling Northwestern University art gallery, works tirelessly to acquire a set of 1920s paintings that would put his workplace on the map. He watches his close-knit circle of friends die from AIDS, and once he learns that his longtime partner, Charlie, has tested positive after having an affair, Yale goes into a tailspin, worried he may also test positive for the virus. Meanwhile, in 2015, Fiona Marcus, the sister of one of Yale's closest friends and mother hen of the 1980s group, travels to Paris in an attempt to reconnect with her adult daughter, Claire, who vanished into a cult years earlier. Staying with famed photographer Richard Campo, another member of the old Chicago gang, while searching, Fiona revisits her past and is forced to face memories long compartmentalized. As the two narratives intertwine, Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The great believers.
This was an excellent read. I felt I was witnessing first hand how these people were dealing with such devastation. A book about deep friendship, trust and support.
The Great Believers
I will remember this book for the rest of my life.
Being a keeper of memories
“Boys with hands in pockets, waiting for everything to begin.”
That’s how the protagonist Fiona thinks of her brother Nico and his group of gay friends in a critical scene from Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers.”
The novel alternates between mid-1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and Fiona’s search for her estranged daughter 30 years later in Paris.
I can’t write much more with giving away plot points. Just know there are plenty of surprises, and a lot is going on in this ambitious novel. Beside rotating between Boystown and Paris, the story includes subplots involving artists in love between the first and second world wars and a literal detective mystery.
It’s the scenes from Boystown that stand out the most. Like myself, Makkai is too young to remember the confusion, fear, dread and hysteria surrounding that time.
You can tell she did hours of research. She paints a compelling picture of what it must have been like to be young and gay in the 1980s.
It’s an emotional read. It seems both historical but at the same time current.
We are a generation removed from the height of the AIDS epidemic, but one that of course has not yet ended.
For younger readers like myself, the novel will seem like a lifetime ago, when lovers were barred from funerals, nurses wouldn’t touch patients, people were afraid to shake hands or use the bathroom with a gay person.
For those just a few years older, who experienced a time when AIDS was a death sentence, the novel will bring back painful memories. The characters won’t be fictional to them but will have real names and faces and stories.
With that in mind, Makkai’s most potent themes deal with these memories, with the burden of guilt, grief and pain survivors carry.
The central character to the Boystown years, Yale, is told by an older artist whose heart never left war-torn Europe: “When someone’s gone, and you’re the primary keeper of his memory, letting go would be kind of a murder, wouldn’t it? I was stuck with all that love.”