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.
This is the first fictional work set in the AIDS ravaged 1980's that I have read and it bowled me over. Makkai takes you there-which would be horrible, except she delivers a cast of characters who are absolutely compelling and real. You care about what happens to them. It is hard to put the book down and their stories stay with you long after you are done reading.
Makkai alternates her story between that tragic era in Chicago and Paris thirty years later. The three generations of women, the choices they make, and how those choices continue to impact their lives particularly resonated with me, along with Makkai's beautiful but tightly edited writing style. This is a book I find myself eagerly recommending to a broad and diverse readership.
— Barbette Houser
I want to call The Great Believers historical fiction, because Makkai's chronicle 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!
— Rachel Watkins
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.
— Janet Geddis
A novel of inevitability and convergences and how our kindness, joy, and tenacity reverberates throughout time and across the globe--even as history has seemingly made its best attempt to leave these forgotten voices behind. Makkai has done a great service in her extensive research and in the care and tenderness with which she portrays her characters.
PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BOOK OF 2018 LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE WINNER ALA CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER THE STONEWALL BOOK AWARD WINNER
Soon to Be a Major Television Event, optioned by Amy Poehler
“A page turner . . . An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis.” —The New York Times Book Review A dazzling novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris
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.
Named a Best Book of 2018 by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, The Seattle Times, Bustle, Newsday, AM New York, BookPage, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lit Hub, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library
About the Author
Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Borrower, The Hundred-Year House, which won the Novel of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, Harper's, and Tin House, among others. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two daughters.
"Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a page turner... among the first novels to chronicle the AIDS epidemic from its initial outbreak to the present—among the first to convey the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic’s early years as well as its course and repercussions...An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis."—The New York Times Book Review
“Makkai knits themes of loss, betrayal, friendship and survival into a powerful story of people struggling to keep their humanity in dire circumstances.”—People Magazine
“Cultural revolutions of the past painfully reverberate in Rebecca Makkai’s deft third novel, The Great Believers, which captures both the devastation of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago and the emotional aftershocks of those losses.”—Vogue
"A striking, emotional journey... Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Tearjerker… The Great Believers asks big questions about redemption, tragedy, and connection. Makkai has written her most ambitious novel yet.”—Entertainment Weekly
“The Great Believers soars…magnificent…Makkai has full command of her multi-generational perspective, and by its end, The Great Believers offers a grand fusion of the past and the present, the public and the personal. It’s remarkably alive despite all the loss it encompasses.”—Chicago Tribune
"Beautiful, tender, harrowing... [The Great Believers] is a vivid, passionate, heart-wrenching story."—Wall Street Journal
“Compulsively readable…a relentless engine mowing back and forth across decades, zooming in on subtlest physical and emotional nuances of dozens of characters, missing no chance to remind us what’s at stake.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“At turns heartbreaking and hopeful, the novel brings the first years of the AIDS epidemic into very immediate view, in a manner that will seem nostalgic to some and revelatory to others…Makkai's sweeping fourth novel shows the compassion of chosen families and the tension and distance that can exist in our birth ones.”—Library Journal
"Sure to become a classic Chicago novel…a deft, harrowing novel that’s as beautiful as its cover.” —Chicago Review of Books
“The latest novel from the stunningly versatile Makkai…Focused on a group of friends, lovers, and family outcasts, the book highlights the way tragic illness shifts the courses of people’s lives—and how its touch forever lingers on those left behind.”—Harper’s Bazaar
“A devastating contemplation of love and loss…evokes the epidemic's horrors, yes, but also the profound acts of generosity it sparked.”—Oprah.com, “O’s Top Books of Summer”
“Deeply moving…Makkai does an excellent job of capturing the jaded, ironic and affectionately jibing small talk of a group of cultured gay friends in the Reagan era…[Captures] a group of friends in a particular time and place with humor and compassion. Conversations among her gay male characters feel very real — not too flamboyant, not too serious, always morbidly witty. It's hard not to get drawn into this circle of promising young men as they face their brutally premature extinction.”—Newsday
“Two distinct narratives intertwine ingeniously…The stories meet up to heartbreaking effect.”—New York Magazine
“A poignant, historical journey through a virus’s outbreak and legacy.”—Conde Nast Traveler
“This book will be compared to similar mammoth works of fiction, but Makkai differs in that she seems to care about her characters and her readers… each character – main or secondary – is fully developed, and it is hard not to care for them. The pain and prejudice they suffer becomes personal as their lives are carefully told… A forceful work of fiction that will captivate readers.”—Baltimore Outloud
“Rebecca Makkai’s beautiful (literally—look at that cover!) novel takes us to an art gallery in Chicago at the height of the AIDS crisis. From Chicago to Paris, THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a sweeping story of multi-generational trauma and the solitude that the AIDS epidemic created, as an entire generation was decimated by the virus.”—Fodor’s Travel
“Powerfully emotional.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Makkai is very good at conjuring a gay community enacting the usual dramas of love and lust and ambition and jealousy in a world where all the usual dramas suddenly can carry a fatal charge.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune "With its broad time span and bedrock of ferocious, loving friendships, [The Great Believers] might remind readers of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life…though it is, overall, far brighter than that novel. As her intimately portrayed characters wrestle with painful pasts and fight to love one another and find joy in the present in spite of what is to come, Makkai carefully reconstructs 1980s Chicago, WWI-era and present day Paris, and scenes of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. A tribute to the enduring forces of love and art, over everything."—Booklist (starred review)
“Layered, satisfying… Makkai’s novel about resilience and hope is sure to win readers over.”—Publishers Weekly, "Summer Reads 2018, Fiction"
“To believe in something is to have faith, and Makkai dispenses it fiercely, in defiance of understandable nihilism and despair—faith in what’s right, in the good in others, in better outcomes, in time’s ability not to heal but to make something new.”—National Book Review
“Another ambitious change of pace for the versatile and accomplished [Rebecca] Makkai… her rich portraits of an array of big personalities and her affecting depiction of random, horrific death faced with varying degrees of gallantry make this tender, keening novel an impressive act of imaginative empathy. As compulsively readable as it is thoughtful and moving: an unbeatable fictional combination.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Stirring, spellbinding and full of life.”—Téa Obreht, New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger’s Wife
"This expansive, huge-hearted novel conveys the scale of the trauma that was the early AIDS crisis, and conveys, too, the scale of the anger and love that rose up to meet it. Rebecca Makkai shows us characters who are devastated but not defeated, who remain devoted, in the face of death, to friendship and desire and joyful, irrepressible life. I loved this book.”—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
"Makkai has created a moving story about Chicago and Paris, the past and present, the young men lost to AIDS and the ones who survived. And just as her novel evokes art’s power to commemorate the departed, The Great Believers is itself a poignant work of memory."—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Sympathizer
“The Great Believers is by turns funny, harrowing, tender, devastating, and always hugely suspenseful. It reminds us, poignantly, of how many people, mostly young, often brilliant, were lost to the AIDS epidemic, and of how those who survived were marked by that struggle. This is Rebecca Makkai at the height of her powers.”—Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of Mercury
"In the remarkable The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai conjures up a time as startling as a dream and, in its extremity, achingly familiar to us now, close enough to hold. A tender, sly, immersive, irreverent, life force of a book."—Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
"The Great Believers kept me up reading late into the night, and I'd wake up thinking about Makkai's vibrant, complex, and deeply human characters. This is an immersive, heartbreaking novel—I loved it."—Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me
“Rebecca Makkai's novel The Great Believers has stolen my heart. Crossing decades and lives, love and loss, art, and the long lasting legacy of AIDS, the novel is a brilliant triumph of empathy and intimacy between friends.”—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children
"Time is a healer and a heartbreaker in Makkai’s brilliant and beautiful novel. The Great Believers kept me hoping and guessing, heart in hand, until the very last page."—Carol Rifka Brunt, author of Tell the Wolves I'm Home
“The Great Believers is a sprawling, wildly ambitious novel. Rebecca Makkai brings to life a large cast of characters, and weaves together the threads of her storyline with the ease and authority of a skilled magician. But in the end, what makes this novel such a rousing success is the emotional truthfulness of her characters and the way she captures the panic and rage of the period. I came to feel I knew these people, and was moved by the dilemmas and difficult choices they had to face.”—Stephen McCauley, author of My Ex-Life
"The Great Believers is a magnificent novel—well imagined, intricately plotted, and deeply felt, both humane and human. It unfurls like a peony: you keep thinking it can’t get any more perfect, and it does. A stunning feat."—Rabih Alameddine, author of The Angel of History and Koolaids: The Art of War