The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin published in 2018.
“It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.”
The only downside of being an English major is I have so much mandatory reading that it’s hard to find time to read in my personal time, which is why it took me almost a month to finish this 343-page novel.
In the time I did find to read on my own, I thoroughly enjoyed The Immortalists, a novel that follows the four Gold siblings, Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya. It opens in 1969, all our main characters still children in New York. After hearing rumours of a fortune teller who has the power of predicting a person’s date of death, the children’s curiosity proved to be too strong to resist. Fast-forward a decade or so and the death of their father tears the siblings apart, and the four Gold children find themselves on different tracks of life, all haunted by the woman’s lethal predictions. So the book is divided into four distinct parts, each one dedicated to the life, and inevitable death, of each sibling.
I really liked all the main characters, and mainly their relationships (or lack thereof) they had with each other. It really captures how easily a once close family can be destroyed by death, whether the death itself torn everyone apart or the fact that the person who died was the only thing holding the family together. It also deals with the characters relationship with God and religion, a struggle most people can relate to the older they get. Although I do wish that there was at least one main character that still felt connected with their religion, since all of the four siblings strayed so far away from God, and it would have been interesting to see the perspective of one character who kept their religion until adulthood.
Like I mentioned earlier, the story is divided into four parts, each part dedicated to the life and death of each of the siblings, more specifically in order of their death (first to die→ last to die). This was a clever and organized way to share each of their stories and transition through the eras without confusion. The only thing that I can complain about is that the first part was easily forgotten by the time I got to the end. It felt like I had read about Simon and Klara a million years ago.
This novel explores the age-old philosophical question; would you want to know the date of your death, and if so, how would it affect the way you live your life? The main characters are plagued with the information of their possible mortality, and in turn, influenced how they live their life. Yet the line between fate and choice is blurred the closer they get to their supposed expiry date. It’s enough to make someone go crazy, as I was losing my mind reading about someone else’s fate. It’s very easy to think about your own life while reading this book, trying to think back to all of the choices you’ve made and wonder if it even had an effect on where you are now, or if fate would have steered you this way no matter what. It’s, for lack of a better word, pretty trippy.
Benjamin’s writing was impressive both factually and literarily. Anyone could tell that she did her fair share of research on certain topics that appeared within her characters personalities, such as ballet dance, street magic, and longevity experimentation. The writing itself flowed really well, yet I wasn’t completely blown off my feet. Although the four parts transitioned well from a timeline perspective, overall it sort of felt like four different stories put together in one book. Even the ending wasn’t really what I was expecting, which threw me for a loop (although maybe that’s a good thing?).
I’ve recently started judging books on whether or not they would leave a lasting impression me in years to come. Now, this being said, if I find that a book I’ve read doesn’t have that effect I don’t immediately dislike it. To me, this stipulation of lasting impressions is just what separates a four-star review from a five-star review. I don’t think this book is going to be one of those, unfortunately. As much as I loved reading it at the moment, and as much as it made me think about my life right now, I don’t think I’ll be reminiscing very much about this book. Now for the question of the hour: would I recommend this book? Sure, why not; if someone is looking for a decent book to get lost within, this would be great for that. Is this book going to forever change your life? Maybe not.