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The Great Believers
Cover of The Great Believers
The Great Believers
SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
A NEW YORK TIMES Selection for BEST 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK
A PICK FOR THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S 2018 BEST BOOKS
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY GIFT FOR READERS
"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 new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed author Rebecca Makkai
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 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.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
A NEW YORK TIMES Selection for BEST 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A WASHINGTON POST NOTABLE BOOK
A PICK FOR THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S 2018 BEST BOOKS
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY GIFT FOR READERS
"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 new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed author Rebecca Makkai
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 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.
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  • From the book 1985

    Twenty miles from here, twenty miles north, the funeral mass was starting. Yale checked his watch as they walked up Belden. He said to Charlie, “How empty do you think that church is?”      Charlie said, “Let’s not care.”     

    The closer they got to Richard’s house, the more friends they spotted heading the same way. Some were dressed nicely, as if this were the funeral itself; others wore jeans, leather jackets.      It must only be relatives up at the church, the parents’ friends, the priest. If there were sandwiches laid out in some reception room, most were going to waste.     

    Yale found the bulletin from last night’s vigil in his pocket and folded it into something resembling the cootie catchers his childhood friends used to make on buses—the ones that told your fortune (“Famous!” or “Murdered!”) when you opened a flap. This one had no flaps, but each quadrant bore words, some upside down, all truncated by the folds: “Father George H. Whitb”; “beloved son, brother, rest in”; “All things bright and”; “lieu of flowers, donatio.” All of which, Yale supposed, did tell Nico’s fortune. Nico had been bright and beautiful. Flowers would do no good.     
    The houses on this street were tall, ornate. Pumpkins still out on every stoop but few carved faces—artful arrangements, rather, of gourds and Indian corn. Wrought iron fences, swinging gates. When they turned onto the walkway to Richard’s (a noble brownstone sharing walls with noble neighbors), Charlie whispered: “His wife decorated the place. When he was married. In ’72.” Yale laughed at the worst possible moment, just as they passed a gravely smiling Richard holding open his own door. It was the idea of Richard living a hetero life in Lincoln Park with some decoratively inclined woman. Yale’s image of it was slapstick: Richard stuffing a man into the closet when his wife dashed back for her Chanel clutch.     

    Yale pulled himself together and turned back to Richard. He said, “You have a beautiful place.” A wave of people came up behind them, pushing Yale and Charlie into the living room.     

    Inside, the decor didn’t scream 1972 so much as 1872: chintz sofas, velvety chairs with carved arms, oriental rugs. Yale felt Charlie squeeze his hand as they dove into the crowd.     

    Nico had made it clear there was to be a party. “If I get to hang out as a ghost, you think I wanna see sobbing? I’ll haunt you. You sit there crying, I’ll throw a lamp across the room, okay? I’ll shove a poker up your ass, and not in a good way.” If he’d died just two days ago, they wouldn’t have had it in them to follow through. But Nico died three weeks back, and the family delayed the vigil and funeral until his grandfather, the one no one had seen in twenty years, could fly in from Havana. Nico’s mother was the product of a brief, pre-Castro marriage between a diplomat’s daughter and a Cuban musician—and now this ancient Cuban man was crucial to the funeral planning, while Nico’s lover of three years wasn’t even welcome at the church tonight. Yale couldn’t think about it or he’d fume, which wasn’t what Nico wanted.   

      In any case, they’d spent three weeks mourning and now Richard’s house brimmed with forced festivity. There were Julian and Teddy, for instance,...
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 1, 2018
    Another ambitious change of pace for the versatile and accomplished Makkai (The Hundred-Year House, 2014, etc.), whose characters wrangle with the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic at its height and in its aftermath.In the first of two intertwined storylines, Yale and his live-in lover, Charlie, attend an unofficial wake for a dead friend, Nico, held simultaneously with his funeral service because his Cuban-American family has made it clear they don't want any gay people there. It's 1985, and Makkai stingingly re-creates the atmosphere of fear, prejudice, and sanctimonious finger-pointing surrounding the mortally afflicted gay community, even in a big city like Chicago. Nico's younger sister, Fiona, has rejected their family and attached herself to his friends, with emotional consequences that become apparent in the second storyline, set 30 years later in Paris. As is often the case with paired stories, one of them initially seems more compelling, in this case Makkai's vivid chronicle of Yale's close-knit circle, of his fraught relationship with the obsessively jealous Charlie, and his pursuit of a potentially career-making donation for the university art gallery where he works in development. Fiona's opaque feelings of guilt and regret as she searches for her estranged daughter, Claire, aren't as engaging at first, but the 2015 narrative slowly unfolds to connect with the ordeals of Yale and his friends until we see that Fiona too is a traumatized survivor of the epidemic, bereft of her brother and so many other people she loved, to her lasting damage. As Makkai acknowledges in an author's note, when a heterosexual woman writes a novel about AIDS, some may feel she has crossed "the line between allyship and appropriation." On the contrary, her rich portraits of an array of big personalities and her affecting depiction of random, horrific death faced with varying degrees of gallantry make this tender, keening novel an impressive act of imaginative empathy.As compulsively readable as it is thoughtful and moving: an unbeatable fictional combination.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 30, 2018
    Spanning 30 years and two continents, the latest from Makkai (Music for Wartime) is a striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors. In 1985 Chicago, 30-something Yale Tishman, a development director at a fledgling Northwestern University art gallery, works tirelessly to acquire a set of 1920s paintings that would put his workplace on the map. He watches his close-knit circle of friends die from AIDS, and once he learns that his longtime partner, Charlie, has tested positive after having an affair, Yale goes into a tailspin, worried he may also test positive for the virus. Meanwhile, in 2015, Fiona Marcus, the sister of one of Yale’s closest friends and mother hen of the 1980s group, travels to Paris in an attempt to reconnect with her adult daughter, Claire, who vanished into a cult years earlier. Staying with famed photographer Richard Campo, another member of the old Chicago gang, while searching, Fiona revisits her past and is forced to face memories long compartmentalized. As the two narratives intertwine, Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from May 15, 2018
    In Makkai's (Music for Wartime, 2015) ambitious third novel, it's 1985, and Yale has just lost his friend Nico to AIDS: not the first friend he's lost, not nearly the last he'll lose to the terrifying, still-mysterious disease. Soon after, Nico's younger sister and Yale's friend, Fiona, connects Yale to her nonagenarian great-aunt, who studied art in Paris in the 1910s and now wants to donate her personal collection of never-before-seen work by now-famous artists to the Northwestern University art gallery, where Yale works in development. This potentially career-making discovery arrives along with a crushing reveal in Yale's personal life. Another thread throughout the novel begins in 2015 as Fiona flies to Paris, where she has reason to believe her long-estranged adult daughter now lives. With its broad time span and bedrock of ferocious, loving friendships, this might remind readers of Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life (2015), though it is, overall, far brighter than that novel. As her intimately portrayed characters wrestle with painful pasts and fight to love one another and find joy in the present in spite of what is to come, Makkai carefully reconstructs 1980s Chicago, WWI-era and present-day Paris, and scenes of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. A tribute to the enduring forces of love and art, over everything.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    May 15, 2018

    In mid-1980s Chicago, Yale Tishman's career in the art world is on an upswing just as the AIDS epidemic begins to decimate his circle of friends and acquaintances. Friend Nico is one of the first to be taken, and his funeral brings together Yale, partner Charlie, photographer Richard, aspiring actor Julian, Nico's sister, Fiona, and various other friends and acquaintances. Skip to 2015, and Fiona is staying with Richard in Paris, seeking to reconnect with her daughter, Claire, from whom she's been estranged since Claire's entry into a fundamentalist cult. The narrative moves deftly between Chicago and Paris, with Yale and Fiona's stories intertwining around connections made and lost. At turns heartbreaking and hopeful, the novel brings the first years of the AIDS epidemic into very immediate view, in a manner that will seem nostalgic to some and revelatory to others. VERDICT Makkai's sweeping fourth novel (after Music for Wartime) shows the compassion of chosen families and the tension and distance that can exist in our birth ones. This should strike a chord with the Gen Xers who came of age, and then aged, in these tumultuous years. [See Prepub Alert, 12/11/17.]--Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    May 15, 2018

    Makkai (The Borrower) swings between 1980s Chicago, where art gallery employee Yale Tishman has lost friend Nico to AIDS, and Paris, with Nico's younger sister Fiona seeking her estranged daughter while contemplating how the virus damaged her family.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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