Great Believers (Makkai)

The Great Believers 
Rebecca Makkai, 2018
Penguin Publishing
432 pp.

A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—April 20, 1978
Rasied—Lake Bluff, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A., Washington and Lee University; M.F.A., Middlebury College
Awards—Pushcart Prize
Currently—lives near Chicago, Illinois

Rebecca Makkai is an American novelist and short-story writer, who grew up in Lake Bluff, Illinois. She is the daughter of linguistics professors Valerie Becker Makkai and Adam Makkai. Her paternal grandmother, Ignacz Rozsa, was a well-known actress and novelist in Hungary.

Makkai graduated from Washington and Lee University with a BA in English, and subsequently earned a master's degree from Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English. She lives with her husband and two daughters near Chicago, Illinois.

Her first novel, The Borrower, released in 2011, was a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. It translated into seven languages.

Makkai's second novel, The Hundred-Year House, set in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, won the 2015 Novel of the Year award from the Chicago Writers Association.

Her novel about the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, titled The Great Believers, was published in 2018. It also received wide acclaim.

Makkai's short stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and as well as in "The Best American Nonrequired Reading" 2009 and 2016; she received a 2017 Pushcart Prize and a 2014 NEA fellowship.

Her fiction has also appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, The Threepenny Review, New England Review, and Shenandoah. Her nonfiction has appeared in Harpers and on and the New Yorker website. Makkai's stories have also been featured on Public Radio International's Selected Shorts and This American Life.

She has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Northwestern University, Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/22/2018.)

Book Reviews
The Great Believers soars.… 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.
Chicago Tribune

Focused on a group of friends, lovers, and family outcasts, the book highlights the way tragic illness shifts the courses of people’s lives—and how its touch forever lingers on those left behind.
Harper's Bazaar

Tearjerker.… The Great Believers asks big questions about redemption, tragedy, and connection. Makkai has written her most ambitious novel yet.
Entertainment Weekly

Makkai knits themes of loss, betrayal, friendship and survival into a powerful story of people struggling to keep their humanity in dire circumstances.
People Magazine

(Starred review) [A] striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis.… 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.
Publishers Weekly

At turns heartbreaking and hopeful, the novel brings the first years of the AIDS epidemic into very immediate view.… [Makkai[]… shows the compassion of chosen families and the tension and distance that can exist in our birth ones.
Library Journal

(Starred review) As her intimately portrayed characters wrestle with painful pasts and fight to love one another…, Makkai carefully reconstructs 1980s Chicago, WWI-era and present day Paris…. A tribute to the enduring forces of love and art, over everything.

(Starred review) [Makkai's]… rich portraits of an array of big personalities…make this tender, keening novel an impressive act of imaginative empathy. As compulsively readable as it is thoughtful and moving: an unbeatable fictional combination.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Yale’s group of friends is very close. In a sense, they are his "chosen family." How is this explored in the book? How does each character relate to their family, biological and chosen? Do you have a "chosen family," and if so, what brings you all together?

2. How has the culture changed regarding LGBTQ+ voices and stories since the 1980s?

3. Chicago is such a powerful presence in this novel that it is almost a character in itself. Have you ever been to or lived in a place that exerted a strong influence on you?

4. Nora, the elderly woman donating the 1920s pieces, seems completely removed from the rest of Yale’s life, yet her story contains elements that can be compared and contrasted with Yale’s. What similarities between his and her life are there? How has her past affected the present?

5. Fiona has suffered many losses in her life. How do you think that affected her as a mother? What are the ways in which trauma and loss are passed down through generations?

6. Do you empathize more with Fiona or Claire?

7. Do you see any parallels between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now?

8. On page 353, Asher asks Yale, "Does it really ever go anywhere?… Love. Does it vanish?" Yale replies, "I mean, we never want it to. But it does, doesn’t it?" What would you say to them?

9. Is the creation of artwork always a collaborative effort? How do you feel about the relationship between artist and muse?

10. What has been your knowledge of—or experience with, if any—AIDS or those affected by the disease? Has reading this novel changed any ideas you have previously had about the subject?
(Questions issued by the publishers.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020