The Great Believers – by Rebecca Makkai – book review

Be ready! This is a novel that will fully immerse you into the terror of the AIDS epidemic of the mid 1980s — a time when every diagnosis spelled death and the surrounding world was full of misinformation about how the disease spread. Part of the book follows a group of people living in the midst of this chaos and another part picks some of them up again a generation later. Awarded four stars in Goodreads.

In 1985, the gay community of Chicago is still mostly hiding out in gay bars and bath houses and just beginning to observe the randomness with which AIDS strikes. Nico has just died and his sister Fiona and all his friends (Yale the art gallery fundraiser, Charlie the gay magazine editor, Asher the activist attorney, Richard the photographer, and others) are all grieving the loss of this one wonderful young man. During the next few years, as more and more people get diagnosed, we all watch as this community, its surrounding society, and its healthcare providers and insurance companies are forced to address the growing epidemic, in part, in response to growing activism from the gay community.

In 2015, a mid-fifties Fiona has hired a private detective to locate her estranged daughter Claire, who may now be living in Paris. A retrospective exhibit of Richard’s photos is about to open, also in Paris. And if you remember your history, 2015 is also the year of a series of terrorist attacks at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations in Paris.

Author Rebecca Makkai (c) rebeccamakkai.com

So, needless to say, there’s a lot of drama in this novel. And with a narrative moving back and forth in time, there are a lot of characters and storylines to keep track of. But along the way — aside from caring deeply about some of these characters — you’ll learn a bit about acquisitions in the gallery world, a great deal about different kinds of love, and some about the long-lasting legacy left by a disease that took way too many at too young an age.

More about the author.