Book Review: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Great Believers
Author: Rebecca Makkai
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: June 2018
ISBN: 9780735223530

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.


Hands down this is one of the top 5 books I’ve read this year! The Great Believers explores the rise of the AIDS epidemic in America during the 1980s, mirrored against the perspective of one woman, 15 years later, who was at the heart of it all and is still learning to comprehend how the crisis affected her life and how she raised her daughter. It’s a masterfully told tale that explores the experience of a group of gay men who are friends and lovers, or sometimes both, in a world that denies their rights to basic human experiences and that turns its back on them when they are most in need. As the men in this group, and those around it’s edges, begin to tragically and rapidly lose their lives, everything is turned on its head. Those that think they might be safe are suddenly right in harms way, and those who have lived their lives without caution suddenly seem safe.

I absolutely loved Yale. He’s such a robust character who walked right out of the pages for me. He is tender, loving, and driven, but he is often blind to the truth around him, stubborn, and sarcastic. Yale truly brought this book to life. He is often someone who is in the right place and the right times, but often also in the wrong place at the wrong time. His life is full of stark contrasts: incredibly high highs, yet devastating low lows. Although his world is disintegrating around him, he strives to move forward and to fight for what is good and right. When forward becomes impossible, he finds a way to accept what is lost.

This is an beautiful and tragic story. Makkai’s writing brings the characters to life and they jump off the page. Yale is a character who is tasked with building an art gallery and it is his job to preserve the memory and stories of those who came before–but perhaps only those whose stories are worth telling (according to the gallery). In contrast to Yale stands Fiona, who lived in the thick of the tragedy, yet stood apart, herself unaffected, while those she loves pass on. In the search for her daughter, she connects with an old photographer friend whose lifeworks share the intimacy and emotion of their shared past. There are strong themes of memory running throughout this book. It questions who gets to tell each person’s story; how does memory live on and pass from one generation to the next? The people of our past become a part of us, no matter how big or small of a role they played in our lives. For these characters, their lives are utterly altered by those who came before them and those past relationships continually inform the way they live their lives and pass on their legacy.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I hope you’ll take the time to grab a copy for yourself and read it, because I promise, you won’t be able to put it down.

Happy reading!

Published by wornpagesandink

Hi! I'm Jaaron. I'm a book-obsessed blogger, writer, reader, coffee-drinker, and dog-lover. I have a B.A.H. in English Literature and a post-graduate diploma in Book and Magazine publishing. I've been fortunate to have worked in both trade and educational publishing. If you have any recommendations for excellent reads, let me know!

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