I first heard about The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai on NPR’s Here & Now with Robin Young. I was instantly moved by Makkai’s passion for telling stories of the 1980s AIDS crisis and her commitment to conducting solid research as she wrote the novel.
I pre-ordered the book on my Kindle and immediately dove into it when it was released late last month. It is the best book I have read this year, maybe the best in a long time. The characters were relatable and the view of this piece of history both moving and educational.
While writing and researching, Makkai spent time in an abandoned hospital that had been site of an AIDS ward during the early days of the epidemic. This dedication to really feeling what her characters must have gone through is apparent in her beautiful, yet hard-to-swallow writing. In one very moving scene, Makkai has the protagonist visit his ex-boyfriend on his death bed, having gone blind and unaware that his estranged ex was there. In one last, loving move, the protagonist uses a small sponge to provide water to the dying man.
Amidst tragedy, the agony of awaiting test results, and the other events of the day, Makkai creates a story filled with hope for the future. Hope for a cure. Hope for a world where we care for one another no matter what.
(Image from amazon.com)