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The Great Believers

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  16,954 ratings  ·  2,419 reviews
A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris, by the acclaimed and award-winning author Rebecca Makkai.

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to th
Hardcover, 1st edition, 421 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Viking
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4.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  16,954 ratings  ·  2,419 reviews

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Rebecca Makkai
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Only giving this five stars because I'm married to the author's husband.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In a weird way, I feel that this is the sweeping gay masterpiece that A Little Life should’ve been. It’s a nice long read about a close-knit group of gay friends and their straight allies that jumps back and forth between the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and present day Paris. Makkai does a pretty clever thing here by drawing parallels between the Lost Generation from WWI and survivors of the AIDS crisis. Ordinarily, when I read books that go back and forth between two narrators I tend t ...more
Larry H
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm between 3.5 and 4 stars, rounding up.

At the start of The Great Believers , Rebecca Makkai's beautifully poignant yet meandering new novel, it is 1985, and Yale Tishman and his partner, Charlie, are preparing for the memorial service for Nico, a friend who has recently died of AIDS.

The gay community in Chicago where they live has been devastated by this recently discovered disease, as have gay communities across the country. The sense of loss they feel is just beginning to hit them, as they
Diane S ☔
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 The story opens with the death of a young gay man, named Nico. Disowned by this family for his sexual preference, that is all but his younger sister, Fiona, who is with him until the end. This is her introduction into the gay community, a community that will embrace her as she embraces them. It is the eighties in Chicago, Boys town and the AIDS epidemic is in full swing. We meet many of these young men, so many whose families have cut them loose. See their fear, their sorrow as more die, or ...more
Angela M
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Great Believers

3.5 stars rounded up

1980s Chicago, the devastating AIDS epidemic seen through the eyes of a group of gay friends as they slowly lose so many in their circle of friends, reflects the time in a realistic way . Fiona who has lost her loving brother and many of their friends over the years travels in to Paris in 2015, connecting with Richard an old friend from those times, as she searches for her daughter and the grandchild she has not met. The chapters alternate between these t
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

Alternating between present-day Paris and '80s Chicago, The Great Believers explores the impact and aftermath of the AIDS epidemic on a close-knit group of friends living in Boystown. The novel tells three stories, through two perspectives. In the main plot, Yale Tishman struggles to cope with the illness and loss of his friends, and placate a jealous partner who fears Yale will leave him after the epidemic ends; al
Richard Derus
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
DNF @ p.148

What, I hear you thinking, is wrong with this old man? DNF a five-star read? Five-star a DNF? ::side-eye::

The fact is that I lived this story. I lost the love of my life to AIDS, and attended far too many funerals and memorial services before I was 30. So I really just can't finish the book. I am not up for those wounding memories to be poked with a stick.

The prose is exemplary in its economy and precision, both qualities I admire greatly. Yale came fully into his manhood for me when,
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, 2018-read, 2018-nba
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019 Finalist
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Fiction

A global crisis that has taken the lives of 35,4 million people, changing the face of the world forever - no, this is not a dystopia, Rebecca Makkai wrote the Great American Novel about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic (which is ongoing; here's the latest data: The author introduces us to a circle of friends in mid-80's Chicago, many of them gay, and shows how HIV/AIDS imp
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ew
3.5 stars

I really loved the themes running through The Great Believers, but I was a little less enthusiastic about the delivery.

The story is told in two timelines. The first timeline runs from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and it is focused on a group of characters affected by the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. The story is told from Yale’s perspective, who is seeing many of his friends getting sick and dying. Much of his story focuses on the breakdown of his relationship and an art show that he is
switterbug (Betsey)
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
When my best friend, Wade, died of complications of the AIDS virus in 1992, I was devastated and broken. If it weren’t for my fiancé (now husband), I may have spiraled into a dark, depressing space for a long time. Makkai’s book brought it all back to me—the despair, the secrets, and the shame that was forced upon my friend from the virus and the politics of the time. Even though the locale (Chicago/Paris) in Makkai’s novel is different than my own, and the plot of course sprang from the depth o ...more
Jessica Jeffers
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
"But what a burden, to be Horatio. To be the one with the memory."
Like many others of a certain age who are fans of musical theater, I went through a phase in my late teens and early twenties where I thought Rent was the most amazing piece of art ever created. A lot about the show hasn’t aged well—just pay your rent, guys—but it’s still a moving remembrance of a very particular time and place: New York during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s

One of my favorite lines in the show isn’t one that I
Roman Clodia
May 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
There’s an important story here (at least in the 1985 strand) as AIDS cuts through the Chicago gay community – but something about Makkai’s style left me feeling mostly disengaged from it in emotional terms. Sure, I had moments of anger as we witness a dead man’s parents exclude his lover from the funeral, the horrible voyeurism that makes a thing of a man being gay, black, whatever. But overall I was never able to get involved or attached to what is going on.

Add to the style a baggy structure t
Jaclyn Crupi
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We get the day off to stay in bed and read big, brave and beautiful books. This is one of the year’s best and explores the realities and legacies of the AIDS epidemic through parallel narratives. It will make you fucking furious and it will instil deep faith in our shared humanity. It’s one of those great American novels that I love SO MUCH! My heart hurts and I feel profoundly altered. HOW CRAZY GOOD IS FICTION!?!? I honestly don’t know how people who don’t read get through this life.
Jennifer Blankfein
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Follow for all reviews and recommendations.

Chicago is the third largest city in the US and we rarely associate it with the AIDs epidemic, yet, the city and its people were deeply impacted by the then mysterious and untreatable, deadly disease. Rebecca Makkai set the story, The Great Believers in her beloved hometown and takes us through overwhelmingly emotional times as we witness deep friendships, brotherly camaraderie, romantic and platonic love, unwaverin
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The carnage of the AIDS epidemic has been often mined by literary writers. Tim Murphy’s Christodora is an excellent example of a haunting novel that captures AIDS devastation and enduring legacy. But Tim Murphy is a white, male New Yorker who reported on HIV/AIDS for 20 years. I wondered: what would Rebecca Makkai, who is a straight Chicagoan and was very young at the height of the epidemic have to add to the wealth of literature already out there?

As it turns out, quite a bit. I was astounded a
Elyse Walters
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Actress Mary-Louise Parker once said....
“I think that no story is more dramatically
interesting than to see someone fight a battle
that is seemingly

The characters in “The Great Believers” were fighting for their lives.
So much much failure....
Friends had perpetrations with each other making it hard to be with ‘the one who was infected with AIDS...while they were ‘the chosen’ with the one who wasn’t.
I remember this period of my life too....
Tyler Goodson
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, six-stars
The Great Believers is the kind of book you make time for, the kind you cancel plans and turn your phone off for. It's utterly believable, heartbreaking, and beautiful. In Makkai's hands, this generation devastated by AIDS are not victims, but fighters, resisters, and believers. I am thankful for this book.
The Great Believers was a mixed bag for me, and I feel I should emphasise upfront that my 3-star rating is not an ‘all-over’ 3, but a result of ‘averaging out’ the excellent bits with the less successful aspects.

The main storyline involves Yale Tishman, his boyfriend Charlie, their social circle, various hangers-on, and the wider gay community in Chicago at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It’s delicate subject matter but handled with great empathy, sensitivity and insight. The charac
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
"And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone's life. Making room for someone in yours."

These words brought me great comfort because reading "The Great Believers" is as close to a real haunting as I hope to come. The ghosts of my own past were very much present throughout the experience. Makkai describes an era with lingering, painful echoes for me and my generation. At
Emily May
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mma-2018, modern-lit, arc, 2018
I found The Great Believers really dry and boring. It's about the AIDs epidemic and a group of gay friends, split between 1985 and 2015, and yet this subject that should have been deeply emotional left me cold. I didn't care for the characters and there were huge chunks that could have (and should have) been cut out.

The Heart's Invisible Furies and The House of Impossible Beauties also look at this time period and do a much better job of it, in my opinion. Each have more interesting characters,
* 3.5 *

I normally set to writing my impressions of a book directly after finishing it, unfortunately for The Great Believers I read it partly on holiday and now find myself struggling to get enthusiastic about writing this review. It is just one of those books I was totally engrossed with while reading but a week or so later, it hasn't made the long-lasting impression I thought it might.

The Great Believers is as they say "compulsively readable". I thought it particularly propulsive in the first
Martie Nees Record
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Group Viking
Pub. Date: June 19, 2018

The Grim Reaper follows all in this novel. Think of Scrooge without a happy ending. The author, Rebecca Makkai, writes about the 1980s AIDS outbreak. The novel is set in the heart of Chicago in an area known as Boystown. There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters: one is in the 1980s and the other is in present time. The book opens in the past. We meet a close-knit group of friends, most of them gay men, at
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5, rounded up.

I've read a lot of criticism that a 40 year old straight woman dares to write a book about the early years of the AIDS crisis, and the author acknowledges that others might claim inappropriate appropriation - but it is clear that not only has she done her homework, but her skill and imagination has covered any glaring gaps from not witnessing it first-hand. Two of the blurbs for the book use the term 'immersive' and it's an apt description - one does become very involved in the t
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald refers to the Lost Generation of post-WWI. Here, in Makkai’s lovingly written historical fiction novel, she pays homage to the ‘lost generation’ of brilliant, young gay men who succumbed to AIDS in Chicago in the 1980s and 90s. She thoroughly researched the era by in
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fictional book based on the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 80s/90s. I won this off of a Good Reads give-a-way.

This is a beautiful and sorrowful book of love, family, and friendship. We see this story through two narratives, one during the 80s/90s and one more current. There is some criticism about the more current story line, but I enjoyed both. I think that they fit well together in ways and we see things from different points of view.

I got through this book quickly and wanted to j
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE this book. It's heartbreaking and propulsive - I could not put it down, and was turning pages so fast it felt like I was reading a thriller. I loved all the characters, and thought the author did a wonderful job of the time change (going back in time then current day).
(4.5) I really think Rebecca Makkai is one of the best writers currently working. Each of her books has been a significant step up from the last: I really liked The Hundred-Year House; Music for Wartime contained one of the best short stories I've ever read; and The Great Believers is so mature, rich and accomplished it feels like the crowning achievement of a decades-long literary career. (If the evidence wasn't staring me in the face, I would never have believed this and The Borrower were ...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Originally published on my book blog,

Rebecca Makkai tells two intertwined stories in The Great Believers. One starts in 1980s Chicago, the other in 2015 Paris. Held within are the lives of two friends, Yale and Fiona, along with many others.

In the mid-1980s, the world was just beginning to understand AIDS. It was still considered to be a disease that only gay men “caught.” The discrimination, shame, and fear were horrible. But even worse was the communities of friends that be
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I started out listening to this book on Audible. Then I got the hardback at the library because I wanted to see the words. Then I bought it on Kindle so I could see the words at night.

I wanted to climb inside this gorgeous book and live in it. I did live in it. I'm still living in it.

I read the first 50 pages for a potential BookBrowse review, skimmed up to p. 172 and also skimmed the last few chapters. There’s a near-contemporary story line that’s not very compelling; while I enjoyed the 1980s strand, there are a lot of secondary characters we don’t get to know very well, plus the details of Yale’s art deal slow down the narrative. I really wanted to appreciate the book because I loved Makkai’s two previous novels so much, but I’m not feeling the impetus to continue.

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"Rebecca Makkai is the author of the short story collection MUSIC FOR WARITIME (Viking, 2015) and the novels THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE and THE BORROWER. Her short stories have appeared in four consecutive issues of THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES (2008-2011). She lives in Chicago and Vermont."
“It's always a matter, isn't it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, it's always only temporary.” 12 likes
“And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone’s life. Making room for someone in yours.” 11 likes
More quotes…