Book Review: The Immortalists

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

Chloe Benjamin’s novel, The Immortalists, begins in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1969, where rumors have spread that a traveling psychic has arrived and claims to be able to tell anyone the exact day they will die. The Gold children–four adolescent siblings–sneak out with all the cash they have in hopes of learning their fortunes.

It begins as a novelty, but the prophecies go on to inform the siblings’ decisions over the next five decades, with each child choosing a path based on their personality and alleged death date. Darling Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; bold 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 modern science and immortality.

The story hones on one sibling at a time, with some occasional intermingling and intersection. Some of the children choose to share their predicted death date while each others, while others hold their terrifying secret close to their heart, or ignore what they perceive to be nonsense. The four siblings could not be more different, with strong character development extending out from that initial shared experience in the fortune

The same silent question emerges with each child’s story: Will they die on the predicted date because it is their destiny, or because the prediction draws them into an altered pattern of life choices? The novel explores the thin line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, and this world and the next.

I thought the premise of the book was fascinating, and I found myself wondering about how my life might change with the knowledge of future milestones of my life. Would I make different life choices if I have five years to live, rather than fifty? If I were told I only have five years to live, would I take outrageous risks fully believing I would never suffer the consequences? Belief is a powerful tool, and this novel begs the question as to whether that same tool may be wielded as a weapon.

My strongest critique of the book would be a number of sexual comments that seemed unnecessary and contributed in no way to the story or character development. I don’t care for content added simply for shock value or because of series of words work well together, and I felt there was a small amount of this sprinkled throughout the story.

Many parts of this story are incredibly powerful and raw, but there were also parts that dragged on and were a bit boring. The story itself was extremely thought-provoking, but I don’t feel that the fictional narrative quite lived up to its fullest potential. Overall, however, it was a worthwhile read.

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