mini-review · stuff I read

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282Summary from Goodreads:
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

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.

Their 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 premise of The Immortalists is very intriguing: if told the exact date of your death, would it change how you lived your life? Does this mean that the lengths of our lives are predestined, limited to the thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates of Greek mythology? Four siblings in the waning, hot days of 1960s Manhattan get word that there is a woman who can predict, to the day, when you will die. It doesn’t matter that such a thing is preposterous, or impossible, they feel compelled to tempt fate. This outing fractures the family forever.

The result is a very compelling novel about how perceived fate impacts the Golds’ lives. Some feel compelled to take risks, others to “play” it safe. The first two sections with Simon and Klara read very quickly. Their characters’ lives are vivid, fast-paced, and surreal. I found their stories the most compelling. The third section was Daniel’s and I had trouble with his section for some reason. It felt as if the plot and his life plus his “date” didn’t quite make sense to me. The book picked up again with Varya – her section does have a lot to think about with its focus on longevity (are you getting more years or better years?), asceticism, and self-denial. An excellent book to kick off the reading year.

Trigger warning: If you’re sensitive to animals being hurt, there are some pages in Varya’s section that are rough.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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2 thoughts on “The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

  1. This is one of those books where I think I am in the minority opinion. I LOVED Simon’s section. Everything about it. I loved how he chose to embrace life and took chances. Whether he did so because of the prediction or not is immaterial in my eyes. After Simon’s section though I completely lost interest. Daniel’s section made no sense to me, and I didn’t care enough about Varya to really dig into hers. Some of this is the fault of the author for essentially hiding the two older siblings until the end. We don’t get the chance to know them like we do with Simon or even with Klara.

    I would recommend you read Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, which tackles the same topic but I think does so much better.

    1. Yeah, I have They Both Die in the End on my TBR 😂 (I want to read it but people keep writing more and more and more books!!) True, that Benjamin didn’t give the reader a chance to know Daniel and Varya like she did Simon and Klara

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