‘How would you live your life if you knew the day you were going to die?’
My review today is of the extremely thought-provoking novel, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. Just published by Tinder Press, I was blown away by this haunting, memorable story.
‘A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.’
Read on for my thoughts…
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling 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, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
The Immortalists is a novel quite unlike any I have read before. An instant New York Times bestseller, here is a book that seriously makes one think about one’s mortality.
Four siblings Varya, thirteen; Daniel, eleven; Klara, nine; and Simon, seven, make a decision one day that has a catastrophic impact on their lives. The year is 1969. That summer New York is a melting pot. Woodstock fever is at it’s height, the Vietnam War is at it’s worst and Apollo 11 safely transports two astronauts to the Moon, but for the Gold siblings life remains the same.
‘With a month and a half of humid boredom behind them and a month and a half ahead…it seems something is happening to everyone but them’
Daniel hears of a woman, a fortune teller, who has special powers. It is said that she can tell you when you are going to die. Initially skeptical and quite uncomfortable at the prospect, the siblings decide to search her out.
‘But something else created the atmosphere required for this pilgrimage; they are siblings, this summer, in a way they will never be again.’
So they set off on their journey and they do find this woman, who does give them the exact date of their deaths. Each is completely freaked out by this information and this is where, as a reader, you have to ask the question – Is their future preordained? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?
The Immortalists is divided up into four parts, with each section telling us the life story of each of the Gold siblings.
Charged with such incredible descriptions, we firstly take a trip to San Francisco with Simon, a young man of sixteen years of age.There is a rawness to Simon’s story, there is love and there is an incredible crushing sadness. As Simon lives his life to the fullest and pushes the boundaries of life, you cannot but feel upset and quite emotional as his world unravels and his story plays out on the pages.
Following on from Simon, Chloe Benjamin introduces the reader to the life paths chosen by Klara, Daniel and Varya Gold, each very unique, each with it’s own tragedies. It is very, very hard to write anymore about their individual stories here today, as to do so would influence the reaction of future readers, so instead I’m going to talk about the premise suggested in The Immortalists.
Chloe Benjamin is quoted as saying that she has ‘always been interested in the tension between knowledge and mystery, between science and religion and the various ways we cope with the unknown.’ As I turned the pages I was thinking about these words. Human beings generally fear the unknown, yet every morning we wake up, we face it. Is today the day we die or do we get another chance at experiencing a new day? What if we woke up today with the 100% knowledge that it would be our last? What if we have known this day would come from a very young age? How would this knowledge affect the direction of our choices? Would we live in the moment, for the moment, or would we shy away in isolation, in the hope that if we don’t tempt fate, then we can perhaps be forgotten, skipped over, live for many more years?
There are so many underlying questions throughout The Immortalists. It is a heart-rending, poignant and thoroughly incredible read. This is the story of a family and their lives spanning many years. it also a story of life and death, of loss and regrets, of kindness and of sorrow.
The Immortalists has been described as a ‘big, grown-up, all-consuming high-concept American literary novel’ I’m not so sure I have ever picked up a novel with such words written about it. Sometimes reading statements like this can have a negative affect on your thoughts, as your expectations are so very high. In the case of The Immortalists it’s all very true. I was completely immersed in this novel from the opening pages. The powerful imagery of New York, and of every town and city featured, is just outstanding. I am actually very excited about this novel, if you haven’t already guessed, and I really look forward to what Chloe Benjamin writes next.
Profound, fascinating, emotional and at times disturbing, The Immortalists truly is deserving of all the praise it is currently receiving.
Purchase Link ~ The Immortalists
Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Immortalists, a #1 Indie Next Pick, #1 Library Reads pick, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, Amazon Best Book of the Month, and an iBooks Favorite.
Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was long listed for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
Her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. Originally from San Francisco, CA, Chloe is a graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin.
She lives with her husband in Madison, WI.
Website ~ https://www.chloebenjaminbooks.com/
Twitter ~ @chloekbenjamin