The Great Believers

The Great Believers

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 MakkaiIn 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...

DownloadRead Online
Title:The Great Believers
Author:Rebecca Makkai
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Great Believers Reviews

  • Jessica

    Like many others of a certain age who are fans of musical theater, I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I thought

    was the most amazing piece of art ever created. A lot about the show hasn’t aged well—just pay your rent, guys—but it’s still a moving remembrance of a very particular time and place: New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s

    One of my favorite lines in the show isn’t one that I

    Like many others of a certain age who are fans of musical theater, I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I thought

    was the most amazing piece of art ever created. A lot about the show hasn’t aged well—just pay your rent, guys—but it’s still a moving remembrance of a very particular time and place: New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s

    One of my favorite lines in the show isn’t one that I think a lot of others would cite. It’s not funny, it’s not romantic, it’s not empowering. It got cut out of the movie adaptation (and I could write a long, long paper about why that was a bad move), but it’s when Roger, preparing to move to Santa Fe, angrily tells Mark, “You pretend to create and observe when you really detach from being alive.” Mark’s response to him sums up everything you need to know about his role in the story: “Perhaps that’s because I’m the one of us to survive.” It’s a brilliant, brutal, beautiful line, for so many reasons

    Having been too young and too far removed from the AIDS epidemic, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to watch huge portions of your community become sick and die of this disease with no treatment options and so much stigma. But there was a different, specific kind of psychological wrinkle that comes with being the Mark Cohen of the group, the one to survive. The one to remember.

    And that’s the psychological wrinkle that Rebecca Makkai is exploring in her brilliant, brutal, beautiful novel

    . Told across two different timelines thirty years apart, Makkai examines the lingering effects of the AIDS epidemic on one group of friends in Chicago. In 1985, Yale Tishman attends a memorial service for his friend Nico, the first among his group to succumb to the disease. Over the next several years, this will become a familiar scene for Yale as more and more of his friends become sick and pass away. The one constant is Nico’s little sister, Fiona, who continues to provide care for Nico’s friends as, one by one, they receive positive tests.

    For everyone in the Chicago gay community, there is the lingering question—

    For Yale, the question is present, certainly, but he feels comforted by the fact that he is in a monogamous relationship with Charlie and, therefore, theoretically, at a much lower risk of contracting HIV. Meanwhile, he distracts himself from his grief by focusing his attentions on his work. As the development director for an up-and-coming art gallery, Yale is trying to secure a bequest from Fiona’s great aunt, who spent her youth in Paris mingling with artists. Now she wants to leave the works those men left behind to Yale’s gallery, much to the horror of her family.

    In 2015, Fiona is a middle-aged woman who has come to Paris to search for Claire, the adult daughter from whom she is estranged. She and Claire have had a fraught relationship since her daughter was young and Fiona had an affair with another man that ended her marriage to Claire’s father. When Claire was a teenager, she ran away with a man fifteen years her senior and ended up in a cult. She has since left the cult, but hasn’t been in touch with her mother, and Fiona is desperate to make amends.

    Though much of the 1980s narration focuses on Yale, this is ultimately Fiona’s story. She’s the one who, in the present-day, bears the brunt of the psychological scarring that comes from being, as Mark Cohen put it in

    , the one to survive. As we learn more about her relationship with Claire and why it fell apart, we see how much it was related to the pain that Fiona experienced watching her brother and so many of his friends in the gay community die.

    As you can imagine, this book is absolutely heartbreaking. I started sobbing on page 334 (the start of one of the most heart-wrenching chapters I’ve read in years) and I did not stop until after I hit the final page, 418. As Yale struggles to acquire the art for the exhibition, as he watches the people around him receive diagnoses, grow sick, and die, as Fiona puts her life on hold to care for her brother’s friends, as she struggles to understand the source of her daughter’s resentments, as we wend into the final scene, at a different art exhibition thirty years after Yale’s, a scene that also beautifully called to mind the ending of

    , there is so much pain and sadness and loss in this book.

    And yet, it never felt emotionally manipulative to me. It never felt sad just for the sake of being sad. It really forced me to consider what it must have been like to live through this awful experience that so many people—and especially gay men—lived through within my lifetime. The writing can be a little overly literary in some spots and it moves a little slowly in the beginning. But it's still so incredibly well done and I want to make everyone I know read it.

    Guys, read this book. It has a lot of buzz, but it's deserved. This will almost certainly end up at the top of my own Best of 2018 list. I can't recommend it enough.

  • Rebecca Makkai

    Only giving this five stars because I'm married to the author's husband.

  • Dan

    In a weird way, I feel that this is the sweeping gay masterpiece that

    should’ve been. It’s a nice long read about a close-knit group of gay friends and their straight allies that jumps back and forth between the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and present day Paris. Makkai does a pretty clever thing here by drawing parallels between the Lost Generation from WWI and survivors of the AIDS crisis. Ordinarily, when I read books that go back and forth between two narrators I tend t

    In a weird way, I feel that this is the sweeping gay masterpiece that

    should’ve been. It’s a nice long read about a close-knit group of gay friends and their straight allies that jumps back and forth between the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and present day Paris. Makkai does a pretty clever thing here by drawing parallels between the Lost Generation from WWI and survivors of the AIDS crisis. Ordinarily, when I read books that go back and forth between two narrators I tend to have a favorite, but in this case I didn’t. Both Fiona and Yale’s parts address the central question of what happens to our communities when they are ravaged? Who carries on the memories? What does it mean to take on the burden of that mantle? And how do families—biological and chosen—reconcile with lives that can be simultaneously too short and too long?

    To say that I loved this book would be both an understatement and a misrepresentation. I can’t say that it was the best book that I’ve ever read or the one that moved me the most. Some parts—like Yale’s almost aggressive naïveté or Claire’s tenuously grounded animosity towards her mom—troubled me from a craft perspective, but I somehow love it all the more for its flaws. It’s almost like that friend who you know is kind of a boar but you enjoy spending time with anyway. I loved the flaws here. I was in the world fully.

  • switterbug (Betsey)

    When my best friend, Wade, died of complications of the AIDS virus in 1992, I was devastated and broken. If it weren’t for my fiancé (now husband), I may have spiraled into a dark, depressing space for a long time. Makkai’s book brought it all back to me—the despair, the secrets, and the shame that was forced upon my friend from the virus and the politics of the time. Even though the locale (Chicago/Paris) in Makkai’s novel is different than my own, and the plot of course sprang from the depth o

    When my best friend, Wade, died of complications of the AIDS virus in 1992, I was devastated and broken. If it weren’t for my fiancé (now husband), I may have spiraled into a dark, depressing space for a long time. Makkai’s book brought it all back to me—the despair, the secrets, and the shame that was forced upon my friend from the virus and the politics of the time. Even though the locale (Chicago/Paris) in Makkai’s novel is different than my own, and the plot of course sprang from the depth of her imagination, she captured the emotions and momentum of the time so well that I often twinned with the author’s story. Character-driven, theme-driven, and generous of spirit, The Great Believers is a fully realized work of art.

    The novel threads two timelines—the 80s/90s AIDS epidemic era and 2015. We follow Fiona in both timelines, first a heartsick nineteen-year-old sister in the 80s and subsequently a mother estranged from her adult daughter in 2015. She never stopped grieving for her brother, Nico, for his untimely death from AIDS in 1985. The effect it had on her, while she stood by all who came after-- Nico’s boyfriend and friends and friends of friends who succumbed, left her so consumed and damaged that she never felt whole again. She couldn’t sustain a marriage, and motherhood was fraught with mistakes.

    In the 1980s, Yale, a development director of an art gallery, is about to pull off the collection of his dreams, just as he finds out his boyfriend has cheated on him and is carrying the virus, which now means possible doom for Yale, too. He decides to focus on his work to escape his pain.

    Nora, the elderly woman donating the 1920s pieces, seems a far cry from Yale and his personal problems, yet her romantic nature and story of loss—all her friends that died or disappeared in Europe during the Great War—resonates to the monumental losses of people dying from the virus. The urgency and sorrow are wrapped up in the wreckage. Many during the war were ravaged, sick from the flu epidemic, dead, or grieving alone. And in the era of AIDS, as Nora says, “I don’t know how you can compare it to anything else…I don’t know how it’s like anything other than war!”

    And Nora still hasn’t gotten over her great love, Ranko, an obscure artist who painted some of the pieces that she is about to offer. He died over sixty years ago, but he’s alive in her heart. She trusts Yale to preserve and display her collection.

    Fiona, on a tip, flies from Chicago to Paris to hopefully find her daughter, Claire, who she suspects now has a daughter of her own. So many years of embittered anguish--the misunderstandings, mischaracterized actions, conflicts, have damaged them both. Fiona’s inability to recover from Nico’s death left her heart torn, like Nora’s when Ranko died. As one character says, when asked if love vanishes, “I think that’s the saddest thing in the world, the failure of love. Not hatred, but the failure of love.”

    The Great Believers delivers a sprawling cast of characters. The majority of them—even secondary and tertiary characters, have singular features that give them dimension. The past informs the present and quietly, through love, memories, and friendship, they open a window to redemption. And art. Makkai has a knack for penning each book so differently, and yet her theme of redemption through art is a bright beam that radiates like an eternal flame of hope and healing. Read it and weep!

  • Angela M

    The Great Believers

    3.5 stars rounded up

    1980s Chicago, the devastating AIDS epidemic seen through the eyes of a group of gay friends as they slowly lose so many in their circle of friends, reflects the time in a realistic way . Fiona who has lost her loving brother and many of their friends over the years travels in to Paris in 2015, connecting with Richard an old friend from those times, as she searches for her daughter and the grandchild she has not met. The chapters alternate between these t

    The Great Believers

    3.5 stars rounded up

    1980s Chicago, the devastating AIDS epidemic seen through the eyes of a group of gay friends as they slowly lose so many in their circle of friends, reflects the time in a realistic way . Fiona who has lost her loving brother and many of their friends over the years travels in to Paris in 2015, connecting with Richard an old friend from those times, as she searches for her daughter and the grandchild she has not met. The chapters alternate between these two time periods and these two places and it was good to have the connection of some of the same people so moving from one time to another felt seamless in ways.

    This is an important story depicting the devastation of the Aids epidemic, but there were so many times when I felt that the story dragged on, was too long, that I was not as captivated as I hoped I would be. While I was definitely moved by the 1980s sections in the first half of the book, there were too many characters and I found it difficult to connect. However, the last quarter of the book really changed my overall feelings about the story. It was in these last chapters when we see the intimate thoughts and profound affect on one of the characters, Yale, that I became much more connected emotionally. The awfulness of the physical symptoms and the emotional toll were heartbreaking and Yale is a character that I felt I came to know in a much deeper way than others . In the 2015 ending chapters, Richard’s photographic show brought the two time frames together full circle in a perfect way. Again I think it’s an important story to tell and an important one to be read. For that and the last part of the book I’ll round up to 4 stars.

    I read this with with Diane and Esil. Diane loved it most , I think, and had a special connection since she is from Chicago.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Viking through Edelweiss.

  • Esil

    3.5 stars

    I really loved the themes running through The Great Believers, but I was a little less enthusiastic about the delivery.

    The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline runs from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and it is focused on a group of characters affected by the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. The story is told from Yale’s perspective, who is seeing many of his friends getting sick and dying. Much of his story focuses on the breakdown of his relationship and an art show that he is

    3.5 stars

    I really loved the themes running through The Great Believers, but I was a little less enthusiastic about the delivery.

    The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline runs from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and it is focused on a group of characters affected by the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. The story is told from Yale’s perspective, who is seeing many of his friends getting sick and dying. Much of his story focuses on the breakdown of his relationship and an art show that he is trying to put together. The second storyline focuses on Fiona, who is the sister of one of Yale’s friends, as she searches for her missing daughter in Paris.

    It was no until the end that I fully understood how the two storylines fit together both thematically and as stories. When I understood the link, it was a bit of an “aha” moment, but up to that point I often felt like this book was draggy and going in too many directions.

    Again, I loved the themes. There is much to be written and told about the devastation caused by AIDS in so many communities of gay men — emotionally, socially and politically. Ultimately, running through the book is a suggestion that the trauma of war is a good analogy. Many died, but survivors — including caretakers — suffered devastating trauma. I just wish the delivery in this book was crisper and less meandering.

    This was a monthly buddy read with Diane and Angela. As always, many thanks for their helpful and different perspectives. And thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

  • Diane S ☔

    4.5 The story opens with the death of a young gay man, named Nico. Disowned by this family for his sexual preference, that is all but his younger sister, Fiona, who is with him until the end. This is her introduction into the gay community, a community that will embrace her as she embraces them. It is the eighties in Chicago, Boys town and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing. We meet many of these young men, so many whose families have cut them loose. See their fear, their sorrow as more die, or

    4.5 The story opens with the death of a young gay man, named Nico. Disowned by this family for his sexual preference, that is all but his younger sister, Fiona, who is with him until the end. This is her introduction into the gay community, a community that will embrace her as she embraces them. It is the eighties in Chicago, Boys town and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing. We meet many of these young men, so many whose families have cut them loose. See their fear, their sorrow as more die, or find out they have the virus. Fiona, is with many of them, caring for them when they cannot care for themselves. I can't imagine watching everyone you love die, and we see how this affects Fiona in her life a dual story line with the second in 2015 as Fiona searches for her own grown daughter. She finds Richard, a photographer, a survivor from the eighties, and there will be another to survive, a total surprise.. Reminded me a little of A Little Life, the scope, the friends, losing so much.

    Maybe because it was set in Chicago, all places I've been, so could imagine this story visually.Belmont Rocks, Lincoln Park and the zoo, Halsted, and Ann Sathers restaurant, one of my favorites in the city. In the Seventies, I hung in Old Town with a group of friends, two were gay, a couple, Jimmy and Max, they were wonderful, don't know what happened to them. I got married, had children, lost touch. I loved this novel, could fully embrace and connect with the story, a story that takes the reader fully into this time period. The political ramifications of a government that was totally unconcerned, a public that turned their heads since this only affected gays, which proved not to be true. The insurance companies, and the way they fought not to pay claims, citing preexisting conditions, so that many died in Cook County hospital. Families, who cut their children off, many never speaking to them again.

    We see the other side too, friends banding together, trying to be there for those who had nobody. A mother who stays with her son through this terrible time. So many of these characters we come to know intimately, especially Yale, who is our narrator along with Fiona. Their is a secondary plot in the eighties that concerns Fiona's aunt and some valuable artwork. It was a little drawn out but it does tie into the story and is something Yale is determined to complete. Yale's sees it as a honor to a love that never stopped. Northwestern and DePaul, places Yale works, DePaul a school my youngest daughter graduated from, know it well.

    In the present Richard and his photographic exhibit will bring the novel full circle, giving the many who had died, once again a voice. Merging the past with the present.

    This was Angela, Esil and my read for March. I liked this one more than they, found it both profound, touching and a story that needed to be told.

    ARC from Edelweiss.

  • Larry H

    I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars, rounding up.

    At the start of

    , Rebecca Makkai's beautifully poignant yet meandering new novel, it is 1985, and Yale Tishman and his partner, Charlie, are preparing for the memorial service for Nico, a friend who has recently died of AIDS.

    The gay community in Chicago where they live has been devastated by this recently discovered disease, as have gay communities across the country. The sense of loss they feel is just beginning to hit them, as they

    I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars, rounding up.

    At the start of

    , Rebecca Makkai's beautifully poignant yet meandering new novel, it is 1985, and Yale Tishman and his partner, Charlie, are preparing for the memorial service for Nico, a friend who has recently died of AIDS.

    The gay community in Chicago where they live has been devastated by this recently discovered disease, as have gay communities across the country. The sense of loss they feel is just beginning to hit them, as they begin hearing more and more about people getting sick, more people living in denial and fear, more people simply disappearing.

    As much as the disease and people's attitudes towards it affect him, Yale has other things to focus on. As the development director for a university art gallery, he stumbles on an unexpected windfall: an elderly woman wants to bequeath her collection of 1920s artwork to the gallery. But uncertainty about the artwork's authenticity and familial outrage at the potential value of a gift that could be given to strangers causes Yale and his colleagues more stress than anticipated, at a time when emotions are running high in his relationship with Charlie as well.

    With the disease circling ever closer, Yale finds his life changing in many ways, and he begins relying more and more on Fiona, his friend Nico's younger sister. Fiona is wise beyond her years, and finds herself acting as a companion of sorts, and ultimately, power of attorney, for many of her late brother's friends. It's a role that impacts her greatly.

    "'The thing is, the disease

    feels like a judgment. We've all got a little Jesse Helms on our shoulder, right? If you got it from sleeping with a thousand guys, then it's a judgment on your promiscuity. If you got it from sleeping with one guy once, that's almost worse, it's like a judgment on all of us, like the act itself is the problem and not the number of times you did it. And if you got it because you thought you couldn't, it's a judgment on your hubris.'"

    In a parallel storyline which takes place 30 years later, Fiona has traveled to Paris to try and find her estranged daughter, who had fled the U.S. after joining a cult. Fiona's relationship with her daughter has always been difficult, but she hopes to make peace with Claire. She stays with an old friend from Chicago, Richard Campo, a photographer who made his name in the 1980s taking pictures of those in the community affected by AIDS, many of whom were his friends and former lovers.

    Surrounded by memories both photographic and anecdotal, Fiona is haunted by the ghosts of her friends. She comes to realize how much she sacrificed caring for and loving these men, sacrifices which affected her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, and her life. But given the chance, would she do it over again, or would she put herself and her own life first?

    Parts of this book were tremendously moving and poignant, reminding me both of the movie

    and, at times, Tim Murphy's gorgeous novel,

    (

    ), although this is very different. Makkai did a phenomenal job capturing the emotions, the fears, the culture, and the challenges of those infected with AIDS in the early days of the disease.

    I enjoyed Fiona's character and her journey, but I could have done without her protracted search for her daughter and her interaction with another random character, although I like the way her modern-day storyline intertwined with Yale's. And while I loved Yale's character and could have read a book about him alone, I'll admit I could have done without the whole art thing, although it did set other plot points into motion.

    I was fortunate to come of age after AIDS had been discovered so I understood the risks and methods of prevention much better than those who came before me. But that doesn't mean that life in the late 1980s and early 1990s weren't without fear and ignorance and prejudice toward those with the disease.

    Makkai is a tremendously talented writer, and I've read a few of her previous books. While this book frustrated me at times, I still really found it compelling and emotional, and feel like Makkai did an excellent job examining a bleak time in the LGBT community.

    See all of my reviews at

    , or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at

    .

  • Meike

    A global crisis that has taken the lives of 35,4 million people, changing the face of the world forever - no, this is not a dystopia, Rebecca Makkai wrote the Great American Novel about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which is ongoing; here's the latest data:

    ). The author introduces us to a circle of friends in mid-80's Chicago, many of them gay, and shows how HIV/AIDS impacts their lives. What makes this book

    A global crisis that has taken the lives of 35,4 million people, changing the face of the world forever - no, this is not a dystopia, Rebecca Makkai wrote the Great American Novel about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which is ongoing; here's the latest data:

    ). The author introduces us to a circle of friends in mid-80's Chicago, many of them gay, and shows how HIV/AIDS impacts their lives. What makes this book particularly shocking is that it starts rather slow, but pretty quickly it becomes clear that what propels the story forward is the question who will die next - and as Makkai's characters are brilliantly drawn, psychologically covincing and vivid, it is heart-wrenching to read about their destinies. This main narrative is intersected with a second storyline that takes us and some of the surviving protagonists to Paris in 2010, thus showing how the past is never over and the dead never really vanish, which can be both consoling and haunting.

    Makkai's main character is Yale Tishman, a 31-year-old gay man who works at Northwestern's Brigg Gallery. His partner Charlie is the editor-in-chief of a gay magazine and an activist. When their friend Nico dies of AIDS, Yale is devastated, but still feels like he is safe from the disease. Soon though, the epidemic starts to ravage their circle of friends and Yale finds himself at the centre of a deadly storm.

    Throughout her novel, Makkai touches on many topics: There's the spread of fear that erodes human relationships (

    ), the questions of blame and guilt, the judgement and the stigma. There's also the disillusionment that comes with the fact that the AIDS crisis started when the gay community finally saw a window of opportunity in the fight for equal rights (

    ).

    I particularly admired how Makkai manages to convey the enduring consequences of trauma and loss: Nico's grandmother Nora was part of the Lost Generation, and she used to be an artist and the muse of famous painters in Paris. Regarding her memory of those artists who died in or as a consequence of the war and could never develop their full potential, she remarks:

    The theme of ghosts is recurring throughout the novel, and the survivors of the beginning of the AIDS crisis - infected or not - are also a kind of lost generation, forced to deal with the memory of their friends who died gruesome deaths, and their own inability to help them. Makkai makes a point to also refer to 9/11 and the Bataclan attacks, large-scale events that fundamentally changed individual lives. The repercussions of such traumatic incidents are carried over generations: While Yale, who is Jewish, is named after his aunt Yael, Nico's sister Fiona names her daughter "Claire Yael", and Claire names her daughter Nicolette, apparently after Nico, the uncle who was taken from her before her birth - the shadows of the dead always remain visible.

    One consolation for the characters in the book is art and its ability to preserve, celebrate and commemorate - Nora makes the art work of dead artists visible, and the circle of friends from Chicago is immortalized by their surviving friend Richard, a photographer. And his photos are not the only place where they live on, because the human heart is

  • Roman Clodia

    There’s an important story here (at least in the 1985 strand) as AIDS cuts through the Chicago gay community – but something about Makkai’s style left me feeling mostly disengaged from it in emotional terms. Sure, I had moments of anger as we witness a dead man’s parents exclude his lover from the funeral, the horrible voyeurism that makes a thing of a man being gay, black, whatever. But overall I was never able to get involved or attached to what is going on.

    Add to the style a baggy structure t

    There’s an important story here (at least in the 1985 strand) as AIDS cuts through the Chicago gay community – but something about Makkai’s style left me feeling mostly disengaged from it in emotional terms. Sure, I had moments of anger as we witness a dead man’s parents exclude his lover from the funeral, the horrible voyeurism that makes a thing of a man being gay, black, whatever. But overall I was never able to get involved or attached to what is going on.

    Add to the style a baggy structure that flips between 1985 and 2015, and a whole other story that has little connection to the first one other than featuring the same character, and the book started to alienate me further.

    What is it about contemporary authors that they almost all seem to think that they need multiple narratives, times switches and excess baggage to create a novel? A more careful, focused, intimate story of the AIDS crisis and its effects might have made this more palatable.

WISE BOOK is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2018 WISE BOOK - All rights reserved.