“But what I’ve realized—what I think he already knew—is that we believed in the same thing. You could call it a trapdoor, a hidden compartment, or you could call it God: a placeholder for what we don’t know. A space where the impossible becomes possible.”
Chloe Benjamin, “The Immortalists”
Published: January 9, 2018
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
If you could find out the exact date of your death, would you want to know? If you did find out, how would knowing that affect your life and the choices you make? These questions are at the heart of “The Immortalists”, Chloe Benjamin’s intriguing and gripping novel about the power of words, and magic.
The book begins in 1969 with the young four Gold siblings from New York’s Lower East Side, and the afternoon that changes their lives. The children learn that there is a traveling fortune teller in their neighbourhood who can tell anyone the day they will die. The children all have different feelings about this idea, but they are captivated. They decide topool their allowance together and then work to find this mysterious fortune teller. Once they find this mysterious lady they all speak with her individually; they all hear their life expiry dates, and the walk home in rather silent.
I am going to try very hard here to not have any spoilers, so sorry if you feel that you are “left hanging”!
The book then breaks into four parts, one for each Gold sibling. It begins with the youngest, Simon, and follows him as he escapes to San Francisco with his sister, Klara. Simon had his reasons to leave New York City, but it was Klara and her high-spirited personality that gave Simon the confidence he needed to do it. Simon enjoys the busting life of San Francisco and finds works as a dancer, while Klara pursues her dreams of being a famous magician. The second story we see is Klara’s and her pursuit of magic, and how everything changes once she finds someone who can makes these dreams a reality. Klara builds a successful magician career, but she pays a high price.
“The power of words. They weaselled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations.”
The two oldest gold siblings are watching their younger siblings from a far, rather disconnected from the realities Simon and Klara are living. The third story is Daniel’s, the second oldest Gold sibling. He lives a rather average life with his wife, but just like his siblings, the date he received from the fortune teller has a powerful control over his life. The final story in the book follows that of the older Gold sibling, Varya. She is a distinguished research professional and has dedicated he life to her studies. She lives a lonely and isolated life in many ways, pushing people away for her own self protection. The fortune tellers words have affected Varya’s life, but in a very different way than that of her siblings.
Why I Loved This Book
The Immortalists is a captivating and completely unique book, one which was both surprising and predictable. I found some parts to be truly moving and easy to fall into. I enjoying following the first two stories of Simon and Klara, their young lives had so much appeal and vigour, their stories were unpredictable. The stories of Daniel and Varya were less intriguing to me, they fell flat as characters and the moves they made were simple to predict. Daniel’s section includes a character from the earlier part of the novel that does not link in properly, and makes the novel less believable. The end to Daniel’s story was disappointing, it was completely predictable. Varya’s story focuses largely on her scientific research project; and while I admire the work Benjamin put into researching and providing accurate information for Varya’s research in the book, it felt unnecessary. I often found myself skimming through Varya’s section.
Benjamin does manage to capture attention again at the end of the book, as it ends on a pleasing and reflective note. The conclusion proves to recapture the intensity, emotion, and warmth of the beginning.
The Immortalists is truly a thought provoking book, Benjamin has posed some considerable ideas for her readers to ponder. Are our destinies predetermined, or can we actively change them? If you knew the date of your death, how would that change the way you life your life?
I enjoyed the character of the fortune teller that Benjamin built; she is a unique woman who perhaps dislikes her “powers”, she seems to recognize the power her words have over the lives she touches. In some ways, even though the fortune teller may be accredited with ruining the lives of people, as readers we begin to feel sympathy for her. I always enjoy when an author can make us feel sympathy for “the bad guy”.
What I Learned From This Book
I do NOT want to know the date of my last day on this earth. You can see how it affects each Gold sibling in a unique way, and I know that I would be much like Daniel, I would be anticipating it and it would ruin many of the possible good days I could have leading up to it.
The larger question hidden within this novel is “Can you control you’re personal fate?” I take a “más o menos” stance on this, I can really get behind either side depending on many things. I want to believe that I am in the driver seat of my life and every thing that happens to me is a direct result of my choices, but is that true? I am still learning and understanding this question for myself- I’ll get back to you on it if I find the answer.Tags: book review, bookstagram, chloe benjamin, novel review, the immortalists