When I first read the title of this book I immediately put it aside. I pictured a novel filled with sci-fi and fantasy illusions. Wrong, wrong, so wrong!
THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin is a beautifully written testament to family love.
The premise of this novel will draw you right in. If you knew the day you were going to die, how would you live your life? Would you even choose to know ?
It’s 1969, NYC, lower east side. The Gold children, all four of them, are about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. It’s only across the city, but, it might as well be across the continent. They’ve heard there’s a traveling psychic in town; a gypsy woman who can tell the future. They are all on edge. They are quivering to do this. But they are also scared. Do they really want to know the day they will die? But they are kids, and have dared each other. So off they go, to change their lives forever.
THE IMMORTALISTS is told in four sections. Each one is the life of one of the children. Simon is the youngest and is in dire need of escaping his stifling existance. When his father dies in the 80’s he runs off to San Francisco in the wake of his sister Klara. Klara is older and so intrigued with magic. Simon feels the call to San Francisco to free his wings and become his true self. Varya is left behind to care for their mother. And Daniel becomes a Dr. in the wake of 9/11.
Simon’s story is harsh. It’s heartbreaking. It’s very difficult to read in spots. But it rings so true. It’s told in a voice that is authentic and I ask myself how can a young woman write this moving segment. Just stunning. She has captured the lives of so many vibrant young men of the time…
Klara has a very unusual story. I don’t know anyone who has grown up wanting to be a magician. It’s a fascinating part of the book. It’s almost torturous to watch and wait and see.
Daniel’s story was probably the least compelling for me. But, still, not without merit.
But it is Varya who steals my heart. Her work with the primates is so touching and heartrending. I found myself wanting to shield my heart from the pain.
Each of these siblings is living their lives knowing when they are supposed to die. How would you choose to live your life if you knew when you would die? Would you want to know? This is not a story about death. I found it both inspiring and disturbing. But, most of all, I found it a spectacular read. One worth slowing down for..
The writing is extremely brave. Especially Simon’s story. It is, at times, shocking. However, I believe it needs to be in order to be authentic.
The story probes the lines between destiny and choice-reality and illusion, this world and the next. This novel will make you think for a very long time.
Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS, which won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award. She’s a San Francisco native and a graduate of Vassar College and of the University of Wisconsin, where she received an MFA in fiction.
THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin will be published by Putnam, Penguin Random House on January 9. My review copy came from Putnam, a division of Random House. You don’t want to miss it! I’m going to be telling everyone to read this amazing book all season long and into the future…