Happy Friday Bookish Babes! Welcome back to another book review!
This week I am reviewing The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and oh my goodness, friends, I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I cried many times throughout the book, but the last fourth of the book I was just crying the WHOLE TIME. I only had that fourth of the book left and so as soon as I got off work, I raced home, ate dinner like Beast from Beauty and the Beast and dove in. I didn’t even take off my makeup or get comfy. I sat on the floor and finished the book with my mascara running down my face. But, please do not let that scare you. We never want to be sad, but sometimes it’s good to release emotion and also good to read and learn about something so devastating that we have no choice but to rage and act.
The Great Believers has two narratives. One narrative takes place in 1980’s Chicago during the Aids Crisis where we meet our protagonist, Yale Tishman. The other takes place in the present day, 2015 in Paris and follows Fiona, who is trying to find her estranged daughter. Yale is a young gay man living during this time and his friends are dying from this disease that hardly anyone knows anything about. They have to grapple with a homophobic society and government that didn’t put any effort, didn’t do ANYTHING into helping out these people that were not getting the proper treatment or care. Fiona ties into this because the story starts off with her older brother, Nico dying, and Yale, being one his friends, attends the memorial which sets the story off. Years later in the present day Fiona is trying to search for her daughter and still dealing with the aftermath of losing so many loved ones during the AIDS crisis.
Again, this is not a light read but Rebecca Makkai’s writing weaves such beauty into such a heartbreaking and moving story. I know OF the AIDS crisis but honestly, that’s not something they teach in a history class in high school (shameful) so I don’t know that much about that time. Reading this book I learned how terrifying it was being a part of the community and being outcast if you got the disease. How even loving someone was terrifying because you couldn’t give your whole self to the person in fear of this monstrous sickness stalking the country. I wanted to crawl into the story and give Yale a hug so many times. I cried with rage at the horrible things people would say to him and his friends.
The book also brings up the thought of, well, how do you move on after such a tragic time? How do you continue to live and keep the memory of loved ones alive, especially when there were those who completely disregarded them. Family members who shunned their sons because they were gay. Jobs that forced people to stay quiet about their lives as to not disturb clients. Fiona wonders, how do you interact with people knowing that somehow we have a hand in the downfall of a generation. There are many things that happen throughout the book, and maybe at first they might not make sense. Or you might not think “What does this art or this old lady or WWI have to do with Yale and Fiona?” Friends, I promise you it all comes full circle in beautiful and tragic ways. We realize that grief, time, and love are not linear. Please read this. But have tissues at the ready.
Stay curious, Gisela