The Great Believers

By Rebecca Makkai,

Book cover of The Great Believers

Book description


Soon to Be a Major Television Event, optioned by Amy Poehler

"A page turner . . . An absorbing…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked The Great Believers as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I had the most unusual sensation reading this book: it was as though the author had somehow collected all my memories of living in Chicago in the 80s and constructed a novel around them.

This book chronicles the AIDS crisis in Chicago and a group of friends trying to survive, and it portrays life as a gay man during those harrowing years absolutely accurately, in both detail and emotion.

Entwined around that story is a present-day narrative that perfectly details the long-term effects of surviving a plague. Makkai’s writing recalls Ann Patchett’s works to me—gorgeous, simple prose.

As I continue to contend with the painful, inequitable, and lasting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic—as an educator, mother, and human in the world—this book made our nation’s trauma in the HIV/AIDS pandemic real, personal, and urgent in a way nothing else I have read has done.

It was beautifully written and page-turning. I felt rage at our healthcare system’s failings, and homophobia was weaponized. I mourned the losses and the devastation of a generation forever touched by so much trauma.

I celebrated survival and the many ways people forged community amidst the devastation. I could not stop reading, and—months…

What interests me as a reader and a human being is how the past effects the future. In Rebecca Makkai’s novel The Great Believers, we see how the past—a time of crisis in the gay community and in all communities—devastated her characters.

In the 1980s section, we see how AIDS creeps into their lives and changes them, and then 30 years later, we see how those hard years made them who they are—or who they might have been.

Makkai spins out a wonderful, intergenerational story, one that breathes such humanity into her characters, who are rich, vital, and so…

Many books that tackle the AIDS crisis tend to focus on queer meccas like New York City and San Francisco, but Makkai’s The Great Believers illustrate just how hard the virus hit Chicago.

Jumping back and forth between 1985 and 2005, the book follows a close group of gay men and their straight allies as their communities begin to come under attack. In 1985, Yale Tishman is on the verge of great professional success just as his dreams begin to slip through his fingers.

Meanwhile in 2005, Yale’s friend Fiona Marcus finds herself looking for her runaway daughter in the…

My favorite AIDS novel is Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers.

In this exquisitely written book, Makkai not only chronicles the 1980s AIDS epidemic in Chicago, she illustrates how the epidemic continues now. This is vital when it comes to AIDS, where there is a temptation to place suffering and death in the past or at least elsewhere.

Makkai’s story begins in 1985 with Yale Tishman, a gallerist on the brink of making it, while simultaneously living in a world where AIDS is everywhere, his friends are dying and the virus becomes increasingly intimate.

In an intersecting plot, Makkai moves…

From Marika's list on how to have sex in an epidemic.

Told across several decades, Makkai's book leaps between 2015 and 1980s Chicago, allowing for a poignant story that weaves the fictional characters with historical events, chiefly the 1980s AIDS crisis. Again, the book tells a compelling story written with elegant prose while also being a delight from a craft perspective. I love epic novels that take place over many years and the decision to tell the story in a non-linear fashion is a rewarding one when handled with this sort of skill. 

From Joel's list on with multiple timelines.

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