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The Great Believers

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  891 Ratings  ·  171 Reviews
“A page turner...An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis." —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 and award-winning author Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director f
Hardcover, 1st edition, 421 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Viking
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James I’d love to put together the soundtrack- Bronski Beat, Dead or Alive, Smiths, Tears for Fears, “Moon River,” “Being Boring,” etc...

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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
"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
Paula Bardell-Hedley
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Paula by: NetGalley
“They were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy.”
I remember vividly that bleak period in the early 1980s when a spectrum of bizarre but fatal conditions started afflicting gay men. The tabloids were in their element, describing the mystery illnesses as a 'Gay Plague' while rallying their readers to demand all homosexuals be deported somewhere remote, away from 'decent people'. As religious leaders proclaimed the outbreak was
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.
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).
Rebecca Foster
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.

Sarah at Sarah's Book Shelves
[4.5 stars]

Thank you to Viking Books and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this book.

The Great Believers is one of those “issue” book that makes the issue an organic part of the characters’ lives…and these are the types of “issue” books that work for me. It’s ultimately a gorgeous story about friendship in the face of disaster and is the kind of book you can just sink into. It’s got a little bit of The Heart’s Invisible Furies (sexuality, the AIDS crisis, characters you can root for wholehearted
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.
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What can I say about this book that has not already been said? It is propulsively readable with character development and tone that will grab a hold of you and suck you out the other end feeling enriched, enlightened and ever so lucky to have had the experience of reading this amazing novel. Serious subjects that could be depressing but are not because of Makkai's precision with the written word. The intertwining and overlapping characters and plot lines are masterfully handled. Unless something ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A page-turning read and an important novel of the AIDS crisis, thankfully set in Chicago rather than New York or San Francisco. There's a lot of plot going on here, and not all the various timelines and characters totally work, but the writing is smooth, the characters complex, and some infuriating and highly relevant history brought to life. The result is a thoughtful, enjoyable reading journey despite tears along the way.
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
Jerry Delaney
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chicago, fiction, gay
What a wonderful book! Makkai is one of those authors I will follow for years no matter what she chooses to write about or how she chooses to express it. She chose to express this material by alternating chapters abouta group of gay male friends in Chicago in 1985 with chapters about a woman 2015 searching for her estranged daughter in Paris. I will admit I don't usually like that format of different stories in alternating chapters. I seldom find my interest is equal between the two stories. In ...more
Jessica Sullivan
This sprawling, intimate novel takes on the legacy of the AIDS crisis, focusing on one group of friends in Chicago in the 1980s.

It’s 1985 and Yale Tishman’s friends are dying one by one. As his career at a Chicago art gallery begins to take off, his personal life is consumed with loss—not to mention the looming fear of getting sick himself. Yale throws himself into a new project, helping the aunt of one of his late friends Nico unveil a collection of paintings from famous 1920s artists that she
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.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My most anticipated release of 2018 also happens to be two other things: the 50th book I’ve read this year, and the best. I am a HUGE Rebecca Makkai fan, and a vocal one at that, so I was irrationally nervous to pick this up. I stared at the ARC for months, hoping it would live up to MUSIC FOR WARTIME, and now, of course, I regret all that waiting, because THE GREAT BELIEVERS blew past my greatest expectations. To say this novel is epic in scope feels like an understatement. The absolutely devas ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
This one's complicated. This was such a promising book, with such promising characters, and such a wide-open premise — aaaaaaand yet. Parts were good (really good, even), but the dual-story structure — though it featured overlapping characters, and Makkai certainly tried — didn't work for me, and kept ripping me from the timeline (1985–) and character (Yale) I actually found compelling. (And — sorry! — the dialogue. It just wasn't good, and that didn't help.)
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.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think this book may have helped
to prepared me for death (I'm 70).
I've become a great believer
in the word wizardry of Rebecca Makkai.
Best book in a long time, and am actually
three pages from finishing, but I'm
paralyzed with emotion I want to draw out.
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.
Amy Knight
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So incredibly engaging--yes, it's a book about the AIDS epidemic, but it's so personal. It's truly a story about Yale, and perhaps even more, about Fiona, and what this major historical (if ongoing) event did to them. It was obviously meticulously researched, but I never felt like he'd put details in there just because she knew them. I never detected an off note in the whole 400 pages, never a word choice that tripped me up. There were a lot of characters, but she made it easy to keep clear on w ...more
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Angela, Esil and Diane discuss 37 19 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
“The thing is," Teddy said, "the disease itself feels like a judgment. We've all got a little Jesse Helms on our shoulder, right? If you got it from sleeping with a thousand guys, then it's a judgment on your promiscuity. If you got it from sleeping with one guy once, that's almost worse, it's like a judgment on all of us, like the act itself is the problem and not the number of times you did it. And if you got it because you thought you couldn't, it's a judgment on your hubris. And if you got it because you knew you could and you didn't care, it's a judgment on how much you hate yourself. Isn't that why the world loves Ryan White so much? How could God have it out for some poor kid with a blood disorder? But then people are still being terrible. They're judging him for just being sick, not even for the way he got it.” 1 likes
“Roman said, “When you think a specific bad thing is going to happen, it never does. I don’t mean like if you think it looks like rain it won’t rain, but like if you think your plane will crash, it won’t.”
Yale shook his head. “I want to live in your world. Doom is beautiful, and you can control your fate.”
More quotes…