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The Great Believers

By: Rebecca Makkai

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Imprint: Viking

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780735223523

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On Sale: | Pages: 432

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FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE IN FICTIONWINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDALWINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION WINNER OF THE STONEWALL BOOK AWARD SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD Soon to Be a Major Television Event, optioned by Amy Poehler“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 novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary ParisIn 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.The Great Believers has become a critically acclaimed, indelible piece of literature; it was selected as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Buzzfeed Book of the Year, a Skimm Reads pick, and a pick for the New York Public Library’s Best Books of the year.
Rebecca Makkai's “The Great Believers” is a page turner about illness and mortality.... “The Great Believers” is peppered with surprises, a minor wonder in a narrative so rife with dreadfully foregone conclusions. As is true of many good novels, writing about it requires considerable navigation around spoilers.... Makkai, the author of two previous novels and a story collection, is good at differentiating her characters, sometimes with only a couple of spot-on details.... The only lapse in “The Great Believers” is the way Fiona's search for her daughter, while compelling in and of itself, is somewhat diminished by the parallel story set several decades earlier.... Although I can't help wishing the two stories had worked together more potently, that doesn't detract from the deep emotional impact of “The Great Believers,” nor does it diminish Makkai's accomplishment.
—New York Times
...engrossing... The persistence, unrequitedness, and elusiveness of love suffuse these pages. So does sex — tantalizing, overpowering, elemental, potentially fatal. We feel its danger keenly, particularly for Yale, whose HIV-negative status may have worsened. Watching him tiptoe through this minefield, when hope of survival is so minuscule, we can't help begging: Please, not him.
—Boston Globe
THE GREAT BELIEVERS is exhaustively researched and an evocative love letter to Chicago in the 1980s. Makkai has brought a vast cast of characters to life and given voice to their stories, portraying a health crisis that too many people ignored at the time and seem willing to forget now. The resulting book is frequently devastating, but also powerfully hopeful, committed to the idea that it's possible to move beyond trauma and fashion a new life out of what is left in its wake.
Makkai is very good at conjuring a gay community enacting the usual dramas of love and lust and ambition and jealousy in a world where all the usual dramas suddenly can carry a fatal charge... There are plenty of ensemble dramas out there, good ones, too. What might distinguish this one from the lot is Makkai's focus on art and its parallels in memory.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Rebecca Makkai's compulsively readable third novel and fourth book of fiction, “The Great Believers,” opens aptly, with a funeral, in the Chicago of 1985 — when AIDS was still badly understood, ineffectively treated and raging out of control, terrorizing gay communities.... All the players in “Believers” figure boldly, but in Fiona and especially in Yale, Makkai has given us two warmly dimensional, passionate souls who strive, in moving ways, to live as fully as their imaginations (and harsh circumstances) may allow.
—San Francisco Chronicle
...deeply moving, if uneven... Makkai does an excellent job of capturing the jaded, ironic and affectionately jibing small talk of a group of cultured gay friends in the Reagan era; their scenes together feel much like a queer version of "St. Elmo's Fire."... She has, in fact, done a superb job of capturing a group of friends in a particular time and place with humor and compassion.... Having said that, long parts of "The Great Believers" drag and sink into banality.... But it's worth pushing through, because "The Great Believers" intensifies in its final third, when Yale finally comes into sharp focus as the stakes rise perilously for him and we become invested in his survival.... The final pages of "The Great Believers" are tear-jerkers, full of a hard-earned joy and an almost cathartic expression of grief and remembrance.
This dazzling first chapter ends with a twist that triggers a misunderstanding between Yale and Charlie that keeps compounding itself, setting the tone for the whole book.... Makkai brings sympathy to these vivid, varied personalities.... Makkai has full command of her multi-generational perspective, and by its end, “The Great Believers” offers a grand fusion of the past and the present, the public and the personal. It's remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses. And it's right on target in addressing how the things that the world throws us feel gratuitously out of step with the lives we think we're leading.
—Chicago Tribune
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