Episode 60: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
In 1985 Chicago, the AIDS epidemic is decimating the population of young gay men who came to the city in search of acceptance, community, freedom. Yale Tishman is one of those men, watching as his friends are stricken down before him, wondering who will be next, if or when his turn will come. His friend Nico has already died, and Nico's sister, Fiona -- beloved by this tightknit group of men -- stands by as a silent witness, knowing she is the one who will survive, who will carry forward the burden of memory. In the meantime, in the midst, life continues: Fiona puts Yale, the development director for an art gallery, in touch with her great-aunt, who lived in Paris before and after World War I, and has a secret collection of paintings and sketches from the artists of the day: men she drew with and modeled for and, in one case, loved -- men who had come to Paris in search of acceptance and community and freedom and found their dreams bulldozed by war and its aftermath.
In 2015 Paris, terrorism is striking at the heart of the city, and in the meantime, in the midst, life continues: Fiona, thirty years older, is looking for her daughter, who, years ago, joined a cult, had a baby, disappeared. As the book moves back and forth in time and space, these intertwining stories ask what it means to be part of history, and how we live with love and loss.
Host Cyd Oppenheimer talks with author Rebecca Makkai about what constitutes cultural appropriation and how to "write across difference;" the dangers of "leading with meaning" and why writers should trust their subconscious; and the reason she killed off Cyd's favorite character.
Guest readers Jessica Sager and Annie Thoms join Oppenheimer to discuss mistakes, responsibility, and guilt; striving for safety while living in danger; and what happens -- to us and to others -- when our stories unravel.