Rebecca Makkai's latest novel, The Great Believers, is a dazzling story of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris. It is the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal, Winner of the Stonewall Book Award, Shortlisted for the National Book Award and LA Times Book Award. Selected as one of The New York Times Best 10 Books of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Buzzfeed Book of the Year, a pick for the New York Library’s Best Books of the Year, as well as a best book of 2018 in my own reading column in the Ntertainment section of N Magazine.
It's 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.
I’m a GREAT BELIEVER in the power of fiction to tell the truth. “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Makkai’s novel is a story that left me stunned with its ability to tell the truth of a time so rarely spoken or written about. As a gay man in 2019, I have lived a much different life than the gay characters in 1980s Chicago. Pages 334 - 337 of Makkai's book took my breath away and I honestly held my breath as I read them. Thank you, Rebecca, for this reading experience, and for finally giving these victims and survivors a voice.
In the same way Rebecca did in her novel, I too want to give a voice to those that didn't have one. I am very fortunate to live in the time that I do. I try to never take for granted the freedoms, and the acceptance my husband and I have. We have come a long way in the world for gay rights, but we can never forget those that did not have it so easy and lived in the time of The Great Believers.
- AIDS was known as the gay plague, and often times looked at as a joke.
- Many near death AIDS patients were all alone when they died. Families having deserted them at their final hours and people too afraid to catch it to get near them.
- In 1990, nearly twice as many Americans died of AIDS as died in the Vietnam War
- President Reagan never once mentioned the crisis during his presidency.
If any of the above points tug at your heartstrings, pick up a copy of The Great Believers. This is the power of books and through these books, the power of our three day literary event The Nantucket Book Festival. I am humbled by the talented writers that cross the sea to make it to our Island with their stories.
The subject of human rights and acceptance is one that is dear to my heart and I would be honored for you to make a donation in its name to help bring more authors to our shores on this subject year after year.