The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin Tinder Press March 8th 2018
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
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; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
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.
The Immortalists has been huge in America garnering critical acclaim for its author, Chloe Benjamin. I was extremely lucky to receive a pre publication copy and saved it until I had a weeks leave and a long train journey to London. I am sometimes sceptical about novels that receive huge publicity, often disappointed when I finally read so I began reading with few expectations.
From the first page to the last I can honestly say I was hooked, fully immersed in the story of the Gold family siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon. The whole premise of the novel, that each Gold sibling knows the date of their death, was totally unique, but it does make it hard to review the novel without giving too much away.
What I will try to do is give an overview of each character.
Simon is the youngest and is persuaded, after the death of their Father, to flee to San Francisco by sister Klara. Once there he becomes involved in a world so far removed from the one he has fled. He is selfish, self centered, living everyday as if it his last.
Daniel is much more complex, the one who persuaded them all to visit the psychic and the one who seems to carry the burden of blame. A military doctor, married to Mira, they have no children yet he seems the most level headed and steady out of all the siblings. As the date of his death approaches he becomes slightly unhinged, hell bent on tracking down the psychic perhaps trying to reverse his fate and that of his siblings.
Klara is a magician finding herself on the verge of fame when she and her husband Raj get their own show in Las Vegas. It is everything Klara ever wanted but wracked by guilt over Simon’s death she finds herself in complete turmoil. Klara’s story was for me the most intense aspect of the novel. Her inner turmoil and complete breakdown was unbearable to read but the narrative was utterly compulsive.
The eldest Gold sibling is Varya, a research scientist investigating the anti aging process which sounds completely absurd considering they all knew when theywere going to die. Varya is the most complex of all the siblings, wrapping herself in the protective layer of obsessive compulsive disorder. Hers is a life lived to rules, no eating out, careful potion control, not too many calories, lots of hand washing and definitely no relationships or friends. I was enjoying afternoon tea in Covent Garden when I read Varya’s story and at first I found her cold and unlikeable and then oh my goodness suddenly Varya’s story changed. I can remember holding my breath and wanting to turn to the table next to me and tell them what had happened. It was this moment that I started to like Varya, the moment she felt like a human with feelings and emotions and I too wanted everything to be ok for her, for her to be happy and content.
Benjamin’s writing is brilliant, it draws you in and completely immerses you in the story of the Gold siblings. There is an intensity about it that I haven’t experienced in a novel for a long time. She made me feel a complexity of emotions and I felt a real connection to each of the characters and I really wanted them to have a happy ending.
Ultimately, The Immortalists is a story of family, love, grief and life. It makes you question our purpose, our actions and how much we must be grateful for what we have before it is too late.
There are three words I would use to describe The Immortalists. compelling, immersive and brilliant.
Thank you so much to Caitlin Raynor and Tinder Press for a pre-publication copy to read and review
About the author
Chloe Benjamin is the author of the novel The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. A San Francisco native, Benjamin is a graduate of Vassar College and of the University of Wisconsin, where she received her MFA in fiction. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.