...a page turner about illness and mortality... both population and plots are ingeniously interwoven... Makkai’s own attempt is entirely admirable... 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... In fact, it’s an antidote to our general urge to forget what we’d rather not remember, but it’s also — which is more important — an absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis.
Early in Rebecca Makkai’s stylish and ambitious new novel, one of her protagonists, Fiona, is pondering life in her 50s... It feels fidgety in places, but thrillingly so... Indeed, there’s a lot going on in The Great Believers, and while Makkai doesn’t always manage to make all the plates spin perfectly, she remains thoughtful and consistent throughout about the importance of memory and legacy, and the pain that can come with survival... It’s a striking moment in a deeply affecting novel that is full of death, yet simultaneously spirited and hopeful about love and life.
The opening scene of Rebecca Makkai’s novel is a striking metaphor for the devastation that ripped through Chicago’s Boystown in the 1980s, snatching victims with bewildering impunity... Yet The Great Believers is not an unrelenting misery-fest. Makkai skilfully guides the quest elements of Yale’s and Fiona’s stories, rounds out her characters with affection and summons a sense of solidarity and defiance in the face of despair, all of which makes her beautifully observed book deeply sad and thoroughly absorbing.