A novel spanning 30 years and two continents takes the reader on a journey, both intimate and sweeping, through the 1980s AIDS crisis in Chicago and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors.
The Great Believers is, as far as I know, among the first novels to chronicle the AIDS epidemic from its initial outbreak to the present—among the first, that is, to convey the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years as well as its course and its repercussions over the decades. Makkai puts the epidemic (which, of course, has not yet ended) into historical perspective without distancing it or blunting its horrors ... It would be futile to try to convey the novel’s considerable population, or its plots and subplots, though both population and plots are ingeniously interwoven. The question 'What happens next?' remains pressing from the first page to the last ... Although I can’t help wishing the two stories had worked together more potently, that doesn’t detract from the deep emotional impact of The Great Believers, nor does it diminish Makkai’s accomplishment. She has borne unblinking witness to history and to a horrific episode already in danger—among Americans, that is—of becoming a horror story out of the past.
The Great Believers brings a whole era back into view...with the the book's 1985 narrative..offering a grand fusion of the past and the present ... Makkai is a wily, seductive writer...who brings sympathy to these vivid and varied personalities ... it's remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses.
Makkai spikes a sadly familiar historical narrative with kaleidoscopic compassion ... Makkai is intuitive, evading traps of sentimentality. She leans on her established strengths — realistic characters, emotional complexity — and in the context of this 80s milieu, their potential is bracingly realized. Her relaxed prose flows; her fascination with human behavior enhances the book’s vivid ensemble. Makkai’s writing even assumes an effortless sweep, plunging readers into a saga of mesmerizing intimacy ... Makkai has a real feel for grief, achingly describing the city she’s long known inside and out as it’s suddenly permeating loss. You don’t just see the ghosts of her Believers — you spend time with them, learn their flaws and virtues and darkest fears, cry at their funerals right alongside those who’ve known them for decades.