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The Great Believers

The Great Believers

by Rebecca Makkai
The Great Believers

The Great Believers

by Rebecca Makkai


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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 YorkBookPageSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lit HubPublishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library 

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735223523
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/19/2018
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 382,466
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "The Great Believers"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Rebecca Makkai.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Spanning three decades and two continents, The Great Believers is the story of a group of friends and their stirring emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis in Chicago and its effects on the contemporary lives of survivors.

In 1985, Yale Tishman is the development director at the art gallery at Northwestern University, working to bring in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift from an elderly woman who was once an artist’s model in Paris. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. The novel opens on the funeral day of his late friend Nico. As the virus continues to take its toll on the gay community in Chicago, Yale grows closer to Nico's little sister Fiona, who comes to care for many of Nico's friends.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter Claire who disappeared into a cult. While staying with her old friend Richard, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself surrounded by memories and reminders of that time. Finally, she begins to understand just how profoundly the AIDS crisis affected her life, grappling with what she sacrificed in caring for and loving these men, sacrifices that affected her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness and feel hope in the face of disaster. The Great Believers is a powerful meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of love and friendship.

1. Yale’s group of friends is very close. In a sense, they are his “chosen family.” How is this explored in the book? How does each character relate to their family, biological and chosen? Do you have a “chosen family,” and if so, what brings you all together?

2. How has the culture changed regarding LGBTQ+ voices and stories since the 1980s?

3. Chicago is such a powerful presence in this novel that it is almost a character in itself. Have you ever been to or lived in a place that exerted a strong influence on you?

4. Nora, the elderly woman donating the 1920s pieces, seems completely removed from the rest of Yale’s life, yet her story contains elements that can be compared and contrasted with Yale’s. What similarities between his and her life are there? How has her past affected the present?

5. Fiona has suffered many losses in her life. How do you think that affected her as a mother? What are the ways in which trauma and loss are passed down through generations?

6. Do you empathize more with Fiona or Claire?

7. Do you see any parallels between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now?

8. On page 353, Asher asks Yale, “Does it really ever go anywhere? . . . Love. Does it vanish?” Yale replies, “I mean, we never want it to. But it does, doesn’t it?” What would you say to them?

9. Is the creation of artwork always a collaborative effort? How do you feel about the relationship between artist and muse?

10. What has been your knowledge of—or experience with, if any—AIDS or those affected by the disease? Has reading this novel changed any ideas you have previously had about the subject?

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