Book Review: The Immortalists

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side when the Gold siblings – Daniel, Varya, Klara, and Simon – sneak out of the house to visit a fortune teller. Word has it she can predict the day of your death, and for these young people, that information is too hard to resist. Off they go like a little gang to learn their fortune – or misfortune, as it turns out.

The experience is quick yet frightening, and the information each sibling receives sets a proverbial timer that flashes “THIS IS HOW MUCH TIME YOU HAVE LEFT.” What a scary thought! How many times in our own lives have we wondered – if we could know the day we were going to die, would we want to know?

Each sibling receives his and her own section of the book so readers follow exactly what goes on from their point of view. You know where this is going. You, the reader, see it clearly because you know you’re reading a book about people who will die. But what Chloe Benjamin does so well is create four distinct characters with personalities and preferences, fears and concerns. It mirrors the various ways we in general might respond to this information – to ignore it altogether and go on with life, to obsess and fret and be rash knowing time is short, to live fully and loudly until the last minute, or to spend all of one’s time trying to beat the clock.

I loved this book immensely. It is a family saga unlike any I’ve read, steady and sharp. It is sad, yes, but when I invest time in a book I want to feel something – anything! – and feel it deeply. The Immortalists is full of passion and grief, but that is to be expected with such a troubling topic.

In this current season of life, I am hyper-focused on not wasting time. I’ve written blog posts about this and spoken frankly to those I love about making the most of whatever time we have. I refuse to waste time. I won’t hear of it! How interesting it was, then, to read a story such as this, where the characters were aware of their specific quantity of life and to see how they each responded. 

If you enjoy literary fiction, read it.

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