The Great Believers - Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers

By Rebecca Makkai

  • Release Date: 2018-06-19
  • Genre: Literary
Score: 4.5
From 775 Ratings




“A page turner...An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis. "—The New York Times Book Review

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 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 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 circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico's little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.


  • “The pain is still here...”

    By gerards86
    Thank you for the telling of this story; although, I initially could feel the dynamics of where the story was going, but then I did get it. Sadly, these stories were very real to me, even though I remember a mother writing to me telling of the horrible and humiliating experience her son had to go through before succumbing to this disease. I really was too young to understand loss; at 30 I did not know unconditional love, compassion, emphatic, really, not even a sincere, genuine embrace. The reality of our LGBTQ culture is that while we are allowed to coexist, we are still greatly prejudiced.
  • The Great Believers

    By Mego65
    Very powerful book. As a lesbian having lived through the 80s AIDS crisis this book provided so much more insight into our men's lives, loves, and daily struggles than I was even aware of. Thank you for educating my head and heart.
  • Good not great

    By RPCilia
    Sympathetic, well developed main characters Reminder of what it was really like if you were in Chicago or NY In the 80s The last 100 pages were page turners RPCilia
  • The great believers.

    By marjorie8888
    This was an excellent read. I felt I was witnessing first hand how these people were dealing with such devastation. A book about deep friendship, trust and support.
  • The Great Believers

    By Mulmom
    I will remember this book for the rest of my life.
  • The Great Believers

    By EAbirch
    A page turner about an under written chapter of our past, this novel is scrupulously researched and well plotted. Unfortunately, the contemporary story is not as well imagined or felt. It feels more like set-dressing to frame the 80’s story, yet carries a stiff and oddly flat false-urgency. Almost a winner, to my mind.
  • Not Sure

    By --mike95128--
    I think I was supposed to like this book more than I did. Well, one of the stories I liked much more than the other. The one about the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago was well developed if preachy and depressing. It often felt more like a documentary than historical fiction. It seemed like something I should be reading more than something I wanted to read. In the end I am glad I did, and not just out of a sense of commitment to my book club. It’s a touching, probably accurate depiction of the crisis for many gay men in the 80s. The author went out of her way to painstakingly include many historical details about marches, hospitals, political commentary, etc. they often seemed forced. My own experience as a young adult was far different, however, and many of the characters and their experiences seemed stereotypical to me. The relatively contemporary alternating scenes set in Paris did nothing for me. In fact, you almost could skip them and not miss anything. Almost. These chapters make the novel drag, and the points about love and forgiveness could have been made much more concisely within the frame of the main story arch. It’s almost as if the author is making the crisis about Fiona, not Yale or any of those that suffered with HIV/AIDS. Who was the main character, Fiona, Yale, or HIV/AIDS? Spoiler Alert: Did Yale really have to die? Did he even have to contract HIV? I was angry at the author for making him positive. He was such a hopeful character. By giving him HIV/AIDS after a series of careless encounters, he became like everyone else in the novel. His exposure was nearly unbelievable to me, and I almost seemed like a mere device to accomplish a larger literary goal. The describing of his death was painful. While I appreciate the care and respect that was given, and I appreciate the loving drawing of Dr. Cheng’s character, the end was unsatisfying to me. That’s a terrible thing to say about a documentary or work of historical fiction, but a perfectly appropriate commentary about a novel.
  • Being a keeper of memories

    By javerette
    “Boys with hands in pockets, waiting for everything to begin.” That’s how the protagonist Fiona thinks of her brother Nico and his group of gay friends in a critical scene from Rebecca Makkai’s “The Great Believers.” The novel alternates between mid-1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and Fiona’s search for her estranged daughter 30 years later in Paris. I can’t write much more with giving away plot points. Just know there are plenty of surprises, and a lot is going on in this ambitious novel. Beside rotating between Boystown and Paris, the story includes subplots involving artists in love between the first and second world wars and a literal detective mystery. It’s the scenes from Boystown that stand out the most. Like myself, Makkai is too young to remember the confusion, fear, dread and hysteria surrounding that time. You can tell she did hours of research. She paints a compelling picture of what it must have been like to be young and gay in the 1980s. It’s an emotional read. It seems both historical but at the same time current. We are a generation removed from the height of the AIDS epidemic, but one that of course has not yet ended. For younger readers like myself, the novel will seem like a lifetime ago, when lovers were barred from funerals, nurses wouldn’t touch patients, people were afraid to shake hands or use the bathroom with a gay person. For those just a few years older, who experienced a time when AIDS was a death sentence, the novel will bring back painful memories. The characters won’t be fictional to them but will have real names and faces and stories. With that in mind, Makkai’s most potent themes deal with these memories, with the burden of guilt, grief and pain survivors carry. The central character to the Boystown years, Yale, is told by an older artist whose heart never left war-torn Europe: “When someone’s gone, and you’re the primary keeper of his memory, letting go would be kind of a murder, wouldn’t it? I was stuck with all that love.”
  • An amazing read

    By SabraCanuck
    I cared deeply about the characters and was so curious to see how the stories connected and where they went.