The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

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As you can tell from the pictures above, I went into to pick up my latest library haul and was greeting with a bunch of amazing books. But when I read the first page of The Great Believers, I had to pick that continue reading! This novel has been getting a ton of praise, and after reading it you see that this is a work that needed to be written, and that also needs to be read.

It’s 1980’s Chicago, and Yale Tishman works at an art gallery in which he is developing their collection. As Yale’s career is starting to take off when he starts working on bringing a collection of 1920’s paintings to the gallery. As he career sky rockets, the AIDS epidemic is growing closer around him. When one of his closest friends Nico dies from the virus, one by one, his friends are also being picked off. Yale, along with Nico’s sister, Fiona, take care of their dying group of friends. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking her estranged daughter, and staying with an old friend. This old friend, just so happens to be a photographer who thirty years ago was documenting the Chicago crisis. In the search for her daughter, old memories of her past are brought up, and the feelings are all too familiar to Fiona.

They meant well, all of them. How could she explain that this city was a graveyard? That they were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy, that when they stepped through a pocket of cold air, didnโ€™t they understand it was a ghost, it was a boy the world had spat out?

I don’t really know where to begin. This is such an incredible story, and also so sad. Other than watching Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club, I would consider myself to have very little knowledge of the AIDS epidemic. After reading this novel, I found myself googling, and checking out non-fiction novels to learn more about it. What Rebecca Makkai has accomplished is the beginning of an education for me, and I bet many readers. The AIDS epidemic claimed a generation of people, and has definitely shaped several generations. But the things that we don’t hear are the stories of the people’s lives who were lost at start a fast rate that they couldn’t even grapple with it.

Nico’s death, although being the first friend to die, had such an impact on this story. His friends had taken some of his belongings as ways to remember him, and as each one of them were dying they were passing on Nico’s scarf. These characters and the community in Chicago were all so capable of good things, and then equally quite evil things. I listened to an interview with Rebecca Makkai, and she said that she used this as a tool to make AIDS the real villain. Even to this day, people are unaware to what and how HIV/AIDS are contracted. In this novel the parents of the characters who had died would go into their child’s apartment with masks and gloves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel, have you read it? If not, I recommend it. The Great Believers is a book that I haven’t stopped talking about, or thinking about since I put it down.

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