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The Great Believers

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  82,489 ratings  ·  7,849 reviews
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 the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico's funeral, the virus cir ...more
Hardcover, 1st edition, 421 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Viking
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Average rating 4.23  · 
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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. ...more
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
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,
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
*vague thumbs up*
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 the
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this novel when it was first published in 2018 and I was gobsmacked by how spectacular every moment was -- and by the rich panorama Rebecca Makkah created of Chicago in the 1980s and Paris in 2015.

I was so enamored with it and I missed the characters so much that last month I bought the audiobook so I could experience it once again.

And I loved it even more. Michael Crouch's narration is spectacular: so many voices, all distinct, and he captured beautifully the rhythms of Makkah's prose --
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
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
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
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; all the while, Yale, the development director for an art gallery, tries to acquire ...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
Emily May
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 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,
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
May 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I read Rebecca Makkai's "The Hundred-Year House," gave it one star and described it as "boring" among other things. But I thought she showed promise. This one's about a subject close to my heart and the book was so highly acclaimed I was eager for the right time to come around to read it. Because I volunteered relatively early in the city where I lived, where it hit late, I knew over a hundred people who died of AIDS, only two of whom were born female. When I burnt out after six years of intense ...more
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-nba, usa, 2018-read
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
A good read that threads two timelines together: one follows a group of gay male friends affected by the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, the second centers Fiona, a mother searching for her estranged daughter in 2015. Fiona’s brother, a member of that gay group of friends, died as part of the AIDS epidemic and Fiona has carried the grief of his death and the deaths of his friends all her life. Despite its meandering pace, The Great Believers serves as a powerful story about AIDS and how it devas ...more
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.
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
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-favorites
I love this novel. It held me captive from the moment I read the first page until I finished a few days later. Makkai creates the world of a group of gay men - Yale and his friends - so beautifully and with such tenderness that I was caught off guard. Their community in 1980s Chicago is high stakes and concentrated. Every action, every infidelity, might result in death. I knew this novel couldn't end the way I wanted it to. The end is documented history. But I still hoped...

I was not disappointe
5ish stars.

Comparing this book to other recent Pulitzer winners/nominees, it doesn't have the gorgeous, lyrical prose of Imagine Me Gone, the magniloquent wit of Less, or the savage bite of The Sympathizer, but it's pretty perfect in its own way.

I love the two main characters, Asher and Fiona, so much that I got emotional whiplash from how many times I was hopeful for them, anxious, heartbroken, and hopeful all over again. Their stories, taking place in 1980s Chicago and 2015 Paris, are equally
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....
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Arty, compelling, moving and superbly well written, The Great Believers is an astonishing and unforgettable piece of literature.

It’s 1985 ( I love everything eighties related) and we meet Yale (my favourite male character since Theo from The Goldfinch), his friends, his partner and co-workers at the art gallery. Some really impressive character development in here, believe me.

It’s 2015 and we follow Fiona, one of Yale’s friends from the eighties, searching for her missing daughter for years si
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
Set in Chicago in 1985, The Great Believers offers a gritty depiction of the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. The story begins with a funeral where a group of gay men are burying one of their friends, the first victim of the epidemic. 

The theme reminded me of The Heart's Invisible Furies which is one of my favourite books, but sadly, The Great Believers failed to make the same impression. Although I can appreciate why the book has been so well received and recognised, I personally felt
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The recent debate about American Dirt and cultural appropriation is one that has been going on for a long time. I think it was for this reason that I put aside reading The Great Believers for so long, as I simply resisted the idea that a ‘bells-and-whistles’ Big Novel about the height of the AIDS crisis in Chicago could be depicted with any degree of accuracy or empathy by a writer not even born at the time.

Yes, I know that is a value judgement in and of itself – actors regularly portray people
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
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. ...more
I have rarely been so moved by a book as I was by this one. Written in a wonderfully lucid, accessible, open-hearted manner, it powerfully evokes in its twin stories a past and present that are complex, mournful, alive, and immediate. This novel is a beautifully generous testament to the necessity and power of bearing witness, of leaning into the moment that’s before us, and of forgiving ourselves when we inevitably mess it all up.

I am so grateful to have read this book.
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
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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." ...more

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