Thank you to Penguin Viking and Netgalley for an early review copy of The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which will publish June 19, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
From the publisher:
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 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.
I was excited to receive a copy of The Great Believers just a few days ago (thus it wasn’t included in my Summer 2018 ARC List!). It’s a thought-provoking reflection on relationships, how they change and grow over time, what they can survive and what they can’t, with the 1980s Chicago AIDS crisis at the center of it all. Two seemingly unconnected characters are tied together through their relationship to one person, Nico, who has passed away when The Great Believers opens, and through the art world their stories become surprisingly related. It just about broke my heart into a million pieces.
The Great Believers smoothly transitions between two stories, the first being Yale’s point-of-view in 1985 Chicago, as he begins to see AIDS affecting his life with the death of his mutual friend Nico and slowly says goodbye to everyone he loves; we also visit Fiona, Nico’s sister, in 2015 Paris, as she struggles to come to terms with her life and her relationship with her daughter. Each section ended on a little cliff-hanger and then the story would return to the other time period, so I always wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen. I truly became invested in the characters and was interested in their lives, which is one of my favorite things about reading and made this book memorable for me.
The Great Believers is a sweeping, heart-wrenching story about love, loss, and identity. As it deals with such a tough topic, I wouldn’t call it an “enjoyable” book, but it’s well-written and well-researched with memorable characters and two interconnected stories. Reading it now during Pride Month will make it all the more powerful.
Want to support a great cause? Post a photo of your copy of The Great Believers using #TheGreatBelieversDonate. For every use of the hashtag, author Rebecca Makkai will donate $1 (up to $5,000) to Vital Bridges, a Chicago-based food pantry supporting people living with HIV. For more information, click here.