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All booksHistorical fictionThe Great Believers
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Historical fiction

The Great Believers

by Rebecca Makkai

Quick take

An intimate story about the 1980s AIDS epidemic, covering the lives (and loves) that were won and lost.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad



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.

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Member thoughts

All (735)
All (735)
Love (572)
Like (147)
Dislike (16)
748 ratings
  • 76% Love
  • 20% Like
  • 2% Dislike
  • Poughkeepsie , NY

    I was a young nurse in New York City during the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s. This story is accurate therefore heartbreaking and bittersweet yet full of love. I couldn’t put it down. A sad story well told.

  • Riverside, CA

    Loved this book! Of the two timelines, found the past one affecting and riveting, and the present one mostly just ok (Fiona’s daughter is awful) though I appreciated seeing where past characters went

  • Urbandale, IA

    This was such an eye-opening read on the AIDS epidemic that swept the country in the 80s. It was heartbreaking but so good. I loved Yale and his timeline but didn’t care much for the present timeline.

  • Boise, ID

    Haunting look at outbreak of the AIDS crisis as seen through Yales eyes. Also the impact it left 35 years later on those who survived. As someone who’s family has been effected by AIDS I recommend it

  • Baltimore, MD

    Truly heartbreaking and reflects on a time that isn’t talked about enough. As we live in this current pandemic, it’s hard to imagine one where people were ostracized and ignored instead of supported

  • Edgewater, MD

    This book was deeply moving, incredibly heartbreaking, and full of love. The characters felt like my best friends, and I pulled, hurt, and cried for them. A painful but necessary read. 100% recommend.

  • Milford, CT

    I took a handful of courses on the HIV/AIDS epidemic a couple of years ago in college. I could recite statistics and acronyms but no class was able to teach me what I learned from this fiction novel

  • Natrona Heights, PA

    I found the stories within this book to be incredibly powerful & sincerely heartbreaking! While reading, I felt a range of emotions: hopeful, anxious, defeated. Emotions aside, this is a must-read.

  • Denver , CO

    One of my favorite books this year, Yale Tishman is one of the all-time great characters. A tender, bittersweet, searing book about queerness during the AIDS crisis. Can’t get it out of my head.

  • Chicago, IL

    An absolutely devatating book. The language is profound without being flowery, and the story is cohesive and controlled even when it feels like everything is spiraling. This is a modern classic.

  • Lees Summit, MO

    I loved this book! Great combination of historical fiction about how the AIDS epidemic affected a group of friends living in the Chicago area in the 1980s and one of the friends in present day.

  • Chicago, IL

    Living in Chicago and growing up in the 80s, this book was very eye opening and put things into perspective. That being said, it was a very overwhelming book that is not for the faint of heart

  • St. Paul, MN

    This book is excellent. This book really shows the AIDS crisis through the eyes of two people living in Chicago. It's heartbreaking, breathtakingly beautiful, poignant, and very well written.

  • Sterling Heights, MI

    I loved this more than I thought I would. I fell in love with each character. The story was heart-wrenching, bittersweet, and uplifting. If you are on the fence, just read it already.

  • Newark, OH

    This book had me crying like a baby! Well written emotional journey of AIDS in the 80’s with a dual timeline about a mom trying to find her daughter in 2015. 10/10 would recommend

  • Covington, LA

    Incredibly moving, powerful, and intimate story about a group of friends at the height of the AIDS epidemic and one of the characters in modern day. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

  • Schaumburg, IL

    This was an incredible look at the HIV/AIDS Scene in Chicago in the 1980s. It was heartbreaking to read first hand accounts, but really well researched. Intense but good read.

  • Temperance, MI

    This is an amazingly moving tribute to those affected by the height of the AIDS epidemic (specifically in Chicago). One of BEST books I have read addressing this subject.

  • New Baltimore , MI

    I’m so glad I chose this for pride month. I’ve known about the AIDS epidemic but this book humanizes the epidemic. I felt like these men were my close friends.

  • Howard Beach, NY

    I love this book because I know somewhere in a small span of my life these characters were very real to me. It's going in the re-read pile. I highly recommend it.

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