The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai


August 2023

I believe that novels can and are all sorts of different things to all sorts of people. I love their flexibility in form and how they feed us. But there was definitely a time, probably in my teens, when what I really wanted was a complete, sweeping, and utterly devastating story. It should travel across eras and continents and generations, captivating every reader, introducing them to a cast of new best friends, generous confidantes or awful ancestors, as well as telling us something about those lives and that time and that place or culture. I actually LOVE the part in novels where you get told stuff that you don’t know. I am aware that many people hate it, and of course when done clumsily it is awful to read, but I want to know more, I am curious, otherwise why would I read?

Rebecca Makkei’s The Great Believers does all of these things. The story is set as the AIDS epidemic takes hold in the gay community of 1980’s Chicago, a small enough place for many lives to cross over. It shows us the political reluctance to fight the virus, the fear and ignorance and the sheer horror of how the men were dying. But we get to spend time with the survivors, too, decades on in Paris, tugged through the story, which alternates between then and now, without knowing exactly who makes it and how.

Great writing, dense and clever plotting, terrifying humanity, hope.

I had the paperback and it’s a chunk of a book so I saved it for a holiday read and was so happy to have the time to fully sink into it