The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists is Chloe Benjamin’s second novel and follows the lives of four siblings after they are all told the dates on which they’ll die.
One hot summer in 1969 siblings Simon, Clara, Varya and Daniel are on the hunt for adventure during the sweltering heat in New York’s Lower East Side. One day they sneak out of the apartment to visit a Romany woman that they’ve heard has a unique gift, she can tell you the day you’re going to die.
Each of the children enters the woman’s apartment alone, nervous to hear their fate. Afterwards, only one of them is happy to discuss the prediction they were given, Varya doesn’t mind sharing that she’ll live into her eighties, but the others aren’t so willing, or are too shaken, to discuss it. They try to put the experience behind them, to dismiss it as hocus pocus, but none of them ever forget the date they’re given.
The Immortalists is separated into four acts, or what could be more accurately described as lives, each section is told from a different character’s perspective. Every one of the four siblings has a very unique, evocative and heart-breaking story to tell. Klara follows in their grandmother’s footsteps and follows her passion for magic to the bright lights of Vegas. Simon finds the freedom to express his sexuality in San Francisco, away from the watchful eye and family pressure of his mother. Daniel sets his heart on finding the woman who gave them all their death date predictions and Varya follows a career focused on extending not just her own life, but the life of humans across the world.
The novel spans multiple decades, from 1969 to the current day and Chloe Benjamin manages to touch on relevant themes across these eras, including the AIDS crisis, race, magic, religion, sexuality and family responsibilities. The Immortalists is one half family saga and one-half rumination on fate and mortality, with a sprinkling of magic on top thanks to Klara.
There is an ambiguity to the novel that I really enjoyed. It allows readers to decide for themselves if the Romany woman did truly predict the siblings’ death or that simply sharing a date meant that the children inadvertently steered towards it in adulthood. Did a closer date mean they took more risks?
The Immortalists is an incredible book that completely captured my heart and my imagination. Every character is so perfectly formed, that you’re sad to move from one act to the next. I think Klara was my personal favourite, I was really drawn to the magic acts and feats of strength she performed, as well as her motivations to entertain. However, it’s all of these characters put together that make The Immortalists so wonderful. The novel begins in a Spielberg-esque style, with a group of children looking in the wrong place for a summer adventure. It goes on to share the lives of four wonderful but ultimately broken people who are struggling to live their best life. It’s books like this that make me wish I was still working in a bookshop, I’d be pressing this into customers hands every hour of the day. There’s so much life packed within these pages it’s almost impossible to think of someone that wouldn’t enjoy it. Whether you’re looking for a book club read, a holiday read, something to enjoy on your commute or just some plain old’ escapism The Immortalists is perfect for it all.
If you like the sound of this then I think you’ll love The Book of Speculations by Erika Swyler