The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin
Published January 9th, 2018
During a quiet summer day in 1969, the four bored Gold siblings make a trek through New York City’s Lower East Side, on an ill-fated mission that will forever change the course of their lives. Varya, thirteen; Daniel, eleven; Klara, nine; and Simon, seven, seek out a mysterious fortune-teller who is said to have the power to predict the date of an individual’s death. Each Gold sibling enters the woman’s apartment one at a time to hear the date they are destined to die. Afterwards, the Golds decide not to share their dates with one another, and try to shake off the entire unsettling experience.
Yet, this day will follow them for the rest of their lives; the woman’s prophecies creating countless ripple effects that will affect every decision they make from this afternoon onwards. Teenaged Simon runs away to San Francisco, finding an oasis in the flourishing gay community of The Castro neighborhood. The Magic-obsessed Klara is dedicated to fulfilling her dream of working as a magician; creating an act that will allow her audience to view the world in a new light. Daniel attends medical school and takes up a post as an army doctor after 9/11; a role in which he determines the fate and fitness of each potential soldier. And Varya builds her life around scientific research to extend the human lifespan; but what is the point of living a longer life if you’re not actively living?
The Immortalists is written in four parts, each narrated by one of the Gold siblings and covering a different period of time. In this way, we are able to follow Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya over roughly fifty years. We are given front row seats to the ways in which the knowledge of the date of their deaths impacts the ways in which they live.
This is an engrossing novel about family, fate, loss, belief, identity, and the choices we make. How much control do we have over our destinies? If you believe something enough does it make it true? Is it better to know or not to know the future? Chloe Benjamin has written an incredibly thought-provoking novel, full of more questions than answers. There’s much here for each reader to contemplate and from which to draw your own conclusions.
The Gold siblings are well-portrayed, yet I never felt as if I got to fully know them as individuals. That’s probably fitting for a novel all about secrets, isolation, and family estrangement however. Over time, the fortune-teller’s powerful words (as well as unimaginable losses) start to eat away at their familial bonds, eroding their sense of unity and leaving each sibling feeling adrift and alone. I did slightly prefer the first half of the novel and the perspectives of Simon and Klara to those of Daniel and Varya. I found the ending to be slightly disappointing, but I did appreciate that not everything is perfectly wrapped up.
The Immortalists is quietly heartbreaking and imbued with a sense of foreboding throughout. I felt a buildup of dread as each character’s perspective neared its end, and their “date” approached. The outcomes often felt unavoidable and yet I could also pinpoint the moments in which the siblings could have altered their fates. Benjamin has brilliantly constructed a novel which holds up to multiple interpretations. I think there is plenty of evidence to support both the theory that the fortune-teller accurately predicted the Gold siblings deaths, and that the knowledge of their deaths created self-fulfilling prophecies. My own interpretation tends towards the latter, but there were also moments throughout my reading in which I more readily believed in the fortune-teller’s claims.
This is a highly readable novel with a brilliant premise and interesting characters. Chloe Benjamin has crafted a vivid story that provokes a lot of reflection and leaves room for debate. The Immortalists explores family dynamics, themes of fate and the power of belief, and questions of how to live your best life. It’s a buzzed about book that is well-worth picking up; an enjoyable and enlightening read.
**A huge thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review**