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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 ratings (1,096)

  • Maria B.

    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.

  • Amanda O.

    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

  • Melissa C.

    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

  • Eleni F.

    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.

  • Karen D.

    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