Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: The Great Believers

Summary: 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. -- Viking

I can only rave about the novel THE GREAT BELIEVERS by Rebecca Makkai! I absolutely loved this book -- I treasured each and every page, and it is definitely going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I am certainly not alone in my praise. THE GREAT BELIEVERS was longlisted for the National Book Award!

At its heart, THE GREAT BELIEVERS is about a group of friends who were deeply affected when the AIDS crisis hit in Chicago in the 1980s. Yale Tishman works as a development director in an art gallery and is trying to close the deal to bring a collection of 1920s paintings to the gallery. However, his exuberance for his career accomplishment is offset by the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Yale and his friends are constantly reminded of the disease because they are losing so many of their friends... and Yale believes that it's only a matter of time until he tests positive.

During the funeral for his good friend Nico, Yale meets Nico's younger sister Fiona. She is entirely too young to be dealing with so much loss, but she soon becomes Yale's best friend as they continue to show up for funeral after funeral. Soon they are pretty much the only ones left from the original friend group.

Fast forward thirty years when Fiona travels to Paris find her estranged daughter who ran off as a teen with a cult. While in Paris, Fiona stays with an old friend who just happened to be a photographer who found fame with his images of the AIDS crisis in Chicago. Spending time with him, while also looking for her daughter, makes Fiona reflect on everything she lost as a result of AIDS.

THE GREAT BELIEVERS is an absolutely amazing novel from the story, to the characters, to the writing. I honestly couldn't stop thinking about this book during the few days I spent reading it. It was one of those books that I wanted to read constantly, but I also wanted to take my time because I didn't want it to end. Let me just tell you that not wanting a book to end is extremely unusual for me!

I hardly know where to start with this review. I think I'll keep it short and sweet. THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a must-read. It is not only a beautifully written account of how AIDS affected the gay community in Chicago, but it is also a wonderful story about how it affected a straight woman who lost so much because of the epidemic. I actually was in high school during this time period so I remember the crisis, and I even have read a few books about AIDS; however, THE GREAT BELIEVERS made me see everything in a different light. The characters in this novel were so real that their stories deeply affected me. My heart just broke over and over for them.

THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a really tough book to read because of the subject matter. It explores death, grief, loss, and more. Needless to say, I cried multiple times...but please don't let that deter you from picking up this book. This novel also explores love, relationships, and friendship in such a powerful way. I guarantee this book will make you think which is always a bonus, but more importantly, it will make you feel!

I highly recommend this novel for book clubs. There is truly so much to explore because it is so complex. I've mentioned a lot of the themes that you might want to discuss such as love, friendship, grief, and guilt; however, you will also want to talk about these very special characters. In addition, it is interesting to explore how attitudes towards GLBT individuals and AIDS have changed. There is a fantastic reading guide available which will certainly help to focus your discussion.

Don't take my word for THE GREAT BELIEVERS. Read it yourself!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

That does sound like a tough, but important, read. I wish I could get my book club to read a book like that.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

This sounds interesting!