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The Great Believers

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  123 Ratings  ·  35 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 an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the ga
Hardcover, 432 pages
Expected publication: June 19th 2018 by Viking
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Rating details
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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
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.
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
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
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).
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
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Makkai creates a very personal tour of the AIDS crisis in the 80's in Chicago alternating with chapters occurring in Paris in 2015. Many books have been written about the dreadful trajectories for many AIDS patients at the beginning of this crossroad but few have had the skilled dialogue that takes one inside the minds and hearts of everyday life as individuals confront a disease that no one knew much about. It felt so intimate that I was sure Makkai must have had personal relationships with AID ...more
In 1985, AIDS, an epidemic that is rarely mentioned outside of the gay community, tears Yale and his friends’ lives apart. Thirty years later, Fiona, his closest friend, continues to struggle with the memories of that year.

An impassioned novel that intertwines the lives of several remarkable characters to tell a story about the power of love even in the face of despair.
Cheryl DeFranceschi
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This may well end up being my favorite book this year. Gorgeous and generous and filled to the brim with a story that my heart just leapt into. Sigh.
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. That out of the way: no, I really LOVED this book. It's so sad but so beautiful. It's about found families that can tie people together and be more important than blood relations. It's a portrait of my city before my time, a portrait of a generation in pain and sickness, but it's still got so much life and urgency. Sometimes I get to the last line of a good book and tears spring to my eyes, and this one made me want to sob.
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,
Sara Leonard
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How do we keep the stories of our loved ones alive, when we're the only ones around to share them? This is the question posed by Makkai's breathtaking novel, alternating between the AIDS crisis in 1985 Chicago and Paris in 2015. The novel focuses on Yale, a young man devastated by the loss of countless friends while living in fear of his own future, and Fiona, a middle-aged woman still trying to figure out how to live with her own daughter after losing everything. The Great Believers is a gut-wr ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is exquisite. The characters seem so real I still think of them almost every day even though I finished this 6 weeks ago.
Jeremy Owens
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a gift.
Mary Chuirazzi
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book, and Yale in particular, will stay with me for a long long time. Fabulous.
Rachel León
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, read-in-2018
Damn, what a book.
Adam Morgan
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Destined to become a classic Chicago novel that's read and taught for decades.
Danny Caine
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A moving novel tracing the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago, Rebecca Makkai's The Great Believers is wonderful. Dual protagonists Fiona and Yale come of age in the same friend group in what would eventually become Boystown. Everything is rosy until Fiona's brother Nico dies, and then the dominoes quickly start falling. The novel is at its best tracing the disease's effects on this memorable bunch, but it also has poignant explorations of career, art, love, and the difficulties of parenting. Big in ...more
Brynn Devereaux
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic. This is a big book with a lot to unpack, but the author does a great job slowly introducing you to everyone, letting you fall in love with the characters, and then breaking your heart. I read almost all of it in one sitting.

It's a difficult book to review without giving away spoilers, but it focuses on a group of men during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. It sounds like it should be all tears and sadness, but it is a beautiful novel that actually leaves you feeling somewhat hopef
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it
The protagonists of Rebecca Makkai’s terrifyingly sad novel, The Great Believers, Fiona and Yale, are trapped by love and obligation. In 1985, Yale is living through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Chicago. His friends and dying all around him while he and his lover worry about catching the virus. In 2015, Fiona is tracking down her estranged daughter, who disappeared after leaving a cult. Both of them desperately want to love someone who can’t love them back. The stakes in 2015 are different from thos ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't say this about many books I read, but this one is *important*. Makkai masterfully takes us back to the tragedy of the AIDS crisis in Chicago in the late 80's, a time I remember vividly: all the misinformation, the fear, the hope and despair, the growing awareness of AIDS and the government's limp response to the pandemic, as well as the gay pride movement and activism.

Makkai is a master storyteller, and the book is as entertaining as it is informative. It's sad, sure. I mean, your heart
Allison Reilly
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. One story-line is set in 1980's Chicago, centering around a group of gay men dealing with the AIDS crisis as well as their own personal lives, relationships, and challenges. The book opens with one of our narrators, Yale, attending the memorial service for his friend Nico who has just died of AIDS. Nico's sister Fiona is the other narrator, whose story-line takes place in Paris in 2015. The characters felt complex and flawed in very real ways. Their love for each ot ...more
Taylor Noel
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning and emotionally devastating in the best way. I haven’t loved characters in a nov this much since I read Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE. A powerful, smart, compassionate story of grief, trauma, friendship, love, mortality, and redemption set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic in Chicago. One of the best books I’ve read.
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. It took me about three weeks to read partly because I wanted to ration it, and party because it's very, very sad. It alternates between Chicago in the 1980s, following a gay man as he and his friends navigate the AIDS crisis, and Paris in 2015, following the sister of the man whose funeral begins the book as she attempts to reconcile with her estranged daughter. Both stories are heartbreaking, but I found things to relate to in each of them.

Rebecca Makkai ha
Rachel Watkins
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, viking
I want to call THE GREAT BELIEVERS historical fiction, because Makkai's inclusion of Chicago in the 1980s is so pivotal to the story. I adored this story of friendships gained and lost, lovers found and rejected. This would be a great vacation read!
Jillian Doherty
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
An epic story over the course of two decades.
One story of a mother and daughter, brilliantly linked with friends and lovers, as heart wrenching as it is gripping and historically compelling; you have to see what happens to them all.
From Paris to Chicago, you can walk the streets and visualize neighborhoods, hospitals, apartments and local haunts to bring you full circle in the end.
With growing esteem, and so much local love - Makkai wows us again.
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
*review to come*
Laura Hill
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Writing: 3 Characters: 4 Plot: 3.5

In this epic novel of lives dismantled by the AIDS epidemic, the action bounces between the gay community in Chicago circa 1985, modern day Paris, and Bohemian Paris on the brink of WWI. There are strong themes of blame, shame, and redemption and good insights into human feeling and behavior in the midst of wide-spread tragedy. The loosely linked narrative streams each elaborate on the impact (both obvious and unrecognized) of large scale bereavement on both sur
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Angela, Esil and Diane discuss 37 10 Mar 27, 2018 07:49AM  
"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 about Rebecca Makkai

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