Winter break serves as a unique time of year where I can prioritize starting new books, and really feel like I have the time and energy to finish them. Over this past break, I found myself completely consumed by Rebecca Makai’s novel “The Great Believers”, and it’s safe to say this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years.
This story spans four decades as it follows Yale and Fiona, two complexly interrelated characters. Yale is a gay man navigating relationships and various aspects of his personal and professional life in the midst of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Fiona is the sister of Yale’s late friend Nico (a victim to AIDS) and struggles with the loss of her brother and his friends throughout the 80’s. However, her unique plot line follows her to Paris in 2015 as she searches for her estranged daughter.
The traversing of this story across continents and in and out of decades made for an undeniably enthralling read. Throughout the novel, we learn more about Yale through Fiona’s flashbacks, and more about Fiona and her present life through Yale.
The relationships in this novel is what makes the story so raw and powerful. In a time of tumultuous loss and trauma, the friendships, work relationships and great loves are put to the test; the fragility of human life and the strong will to fight are both explored wonderfully. I think the intimate look at a social circle of vulnerable gay men in 1980’s Chicago is a unique approach to a defining point in American history that is often overlooked.
Makkai’s novel has everything: love, loss, plot twists, art, history, and family. There are powerful universal messages that helps the reader resonate with a perhaps un-relatable story. No doubt, anyone can learn a lot from this novel. And if you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll come away from this read with a strong emotional response and lots to think about!
Cover Photo: The Bibliofile