The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: Moroccan Lentil Chickpea Stew


For September’s choice of Girly Book Club, the choice was The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. While I often read books chosen by Girly Book Club, they unfortunately don’t have a chapter anywhere near me. Though part of me says I should start one myself, I’m not sure I have the time to do that. But the books chosen just are very good, culturally relevant books. Rated 4.23 stars on goodreads, I rated this book a 4.0.

The Great Believers tells the stories of Boytown during the AIDS crisis. Moving between the ’80s and ’90s in the gay community of Chicago and between Paris in 2015, this story weaves the past and present together of the stories of those who both contracted HIV and those who lost loved ones to the disease. Focusing mostly on Fiona and Yale, this story tells the story of love and loss, based on the very real events that victimized the gay community.

This book was tragic and hard to read, but it was very well written. Though there was a lot of food mentioned in the book, there hardly was a dish that stood out very much, because none were all that relevant to the story line. They included:

  • Sandwiches.
  • Cuba libres.
  • Pancakes.
  • Trays of little quiches and stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs.
  • Swedish fish candy.
  • Bowl of chocolate ice cream.
  • Soup.
  • Croissants.
  • Double cheese sandwich with three slices of provolone, three slices of cheddar, brown mustard, lettuce, onion, and tomato on rye.
  • Milkshake.
  • Ice cream and waffle cones.
  • Latte.
  • Yoplaits and Pringles.
  • Leftover spaghetti.
  • Fish fry.
  • Potpie.
  • Fish and chips.
  • Avocado with cottage cheese.
  • Fruit salad.
  • Cheese omelet.
  • Chocolate milk.
  • Doughnuts.
  • Honey and salad dressing.
  • Cornish game hens.
  • Fresh baked bread.
  • Trifle with sherry.
  • Rice noodles.
  • Apple pie.
  • Tea and ramen.
  • Meatballs and mashed potatoes.
  • Cheeseburger.
  • Moroccan stew.
  • Apple tart.
  • Veal parmensan.
  • Tomato soup.
  • Chocolate pudding.
  • Veggie chili.
  • Sake, nigri, ikura, miso, and avocado roll.
  • Sloppy turkey sandwich.
  • Egg salad, pasta salad, cold cuts.
  • Cherry cobbler.
  • Souflee.
  • Chicken salad.
  • Platters of smoked fish.
  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup.
  • Mu shu and lo mein.
  • Turkey and Muenster cheese sandwich.
  • Toast.
  • Roast beef sandwich.
  • Pizza and beer.
  • S’mores.
  • Paella.
  • Ham and cheese sandwich on baguette.

Like I said, there were a lot of mentions of food in this book. Nothing in this book though was entirely crucial to the telling of the story. It was all mentioned rather in passing. So the reason I chose the Moroccan stew is because there was a scene that sort of revolved around this dinner with the stew. I didn’t make it with the lamb and the apricots that were discussed in The Great Believers, because unfortunately buying lamb is really hard at my local stores and when I can find it, is very expensive.

“It was another two hours before the doorbell rang — what Serge had been cooking was a Moroccan stew that apparently took years.”

Fiona, like I said, is one of the main players in this book. Back during the AIDS crisis her brother Nico died. Fiona had become very close to Nico’s friends, including a man Yale. Fiona and Yale’s friendship shaped a lot of her adult life. And with the deaths of many of the men in this group of friends, their losses shaped Fiona and her decisions into the future. Those decisions shaped her relationship with her daughter, Claire. The portion of the book that is set in 2015 is set in Paris, where Fiona is searching for Claire to try to mend what may have been broken. While in Paris she tries to reconnect with her daughter, but also reconnects with old friends, including Richard. While staying at Richard’s house, his boyfriend Serge, makes a dinner of Moroccan stew what lamb and apricots and spices that “didn’t hit till after you’d swallowed.”

This hearty stew was a great way to begin into soup season, with us meeting one of our colder nights since summer started.


Moroccan Lentil Stew


1 tbsp avocado oil
1 onion, chopped
1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, grated
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
28 oz crushed tomatoes
6 carrots, cut into coins
1 cup dry lentils
16 oz can chickpeas
1 lemon
coconut milk, to taste


  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the avocado oil. Add the onions to the pot and cook for about 10 minutes.
  2. After the onions start to get translucent, add the cinnamon, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, salt, and garlic. Cook for 2 more minutes.
  3. Pour the chicken broth, water, crushed tomatoes, and lentils into the pot. Bring to a boil. Turn down to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes.
  4. After 25 minutes, add the chickpeas and lemon juice. Cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in coconut milk. Cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Serves 5-6.

This recipe is being shared with Foodies Read, Souper Sundays over at Kahakai Kitchen, & Reader Tip Tuesday.

3 thoughts on “The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: Moroccan Lentil Chickpea Stew

  1. Your stew looks delicious (I love Moroccan food) and the book sounds good too. Thanks for sharing with Souper Sundays this week! 😉


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