Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
The Great Believers richly deserves every award and recognition it's received, every bit of buzz and inclusion on most "must read" lists. On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd give it 10 stars if I could.

Set primarily in 1985 in Chicago and 2015 in Paris, it weaves a story of love, friendship, loss and hope against a backdrop of the AIDS crisis. We see this through Fiona, a caretaker and keeper of memories to many friends who died, including her brother, Nico. We also experience the period through the eyes of Yale, a friend of Nico's, who loses so many through the devastation of AIDS that eventually the closest person left in his life is Fiona herself.

This novel manages to recreate the loss, fear, paranoia and even denial that enveloped the gay community in Chicago in the early years of the disease when details about AIDS were foggy for many and better drugs to fight it didn't yet exist.

However, it does this without that being the only story, without becoming a rumination only on death and loss. The Great Believers expertly creates not only a picture of a place and time, but a feeling of the potency of love and friendship. As we glimpse inside Yale's thoughts, he ponders:
" ... was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone’s life. Making room for someone in yours."
I highly recommend this book. You'll long to count some of these characters as friends, even as you shudder at the thought of how you'd cope if some of them died far too soon.

I'll leave you with this, the title's inspiration, taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:
“We were the great believers.
I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.”

Buy The Great Believers on Amazon.

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