Book review: The Great Believers — by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai has launched herself into a whole new category of literary achievement with this flawlessly written third novel, a lovingly told saga about the immediate toll of the AIDS epidemic on the gay community and the long-term impact on its survivors and their families. Set in mid-1980s Chicago and Paris in 2015, “The Great Believers” features characters whose lives have been indelibly marked by the virus. In 1985, Yale Tishman is the development director of a university art museum whose life consists of dual dramas. Privately, there is the turmoil of an unfaithful partner, an ever-present threat of being infected himself, and mounting losses among his friends; professionally, he must negotiate the contested bequest of a very personal and promising art collection, as well as various complicated interpersonal dynamics. At the center of the Paris chapters is his old friend Fiona, who has come to the city to find and reconcile with her estranged daughter, herself the collateral damage of Fiona’s consuming grief over the loss of her brother to AIDS decades earlier. It’s a vast fictional landscape of both time and location, but Makkai works magic with themes of art, illicit love and family bonds to braid it all together into a rich, cohesive and deeply affecting narrative.
— Reviewed by Becky Dayton of The Vermont Book Shop
More to Remember them by
And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Push by Sapphire
City Boy by Edmund White
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir by Paul Monette
When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones
Rebecca Makkai will appear in conversation with Stephen Kiernan at The Marquis Theater on Wednesday, July 11, at 6 p.m.

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