The Immortalists

The Immortalists

by Chloe Benjamin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735215092
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/05/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 33
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Immortalists. Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She is a graduate of Vassar College and the MFA in fiction at the University of Wisconsin. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt


When Saul dies, Simon is in physics class, drawing concentric circles meant to represent the rings of an electron shell but which to Simon mean nothing at all. With his daydreaming and his dyslexia, he has never been a good student, and the purpose of the electron shell—the orbit of electrons around an atom’s nucleus—escapes him. In this moment, his father bends over in the crosswalk on Broome Street while walking back from lunch. A taxi honks to a stop; Saul sinks to his knees; the blood drains from his heart. His death makes no more sense to Simon than the transfer of electrons from one atom to another: both are there one moment, and gone the next.

Varya drives down from college at Vassar, Daniel from SUNY Binghamton. None of them understand it. Yes, Saul was stressed, but the city’s worst moments—the fiscal crisis, the blackout—are finally behind them. The unions saved the city from bankruptcy, and New York is finally looking up. At the hospital, Varya asks about her father’s last moments. Had he been in any pain? Only briefly, says the nurse. Did he speak? No one can say that he did. This should not surprise his wife and children, who are used to his long silences—and yet Simon feels cheated, robbed of a final memory of his father, who remains as close-lipped in death as he was in life.

Because the next day is Shabbat, the funeral takes place on Sunday. They meet at Congregation Tifereth Israel, the conservative synagogue of which Saul was a member and patron. In the entryway, Rabbi Chaim gives each Gold a pair of scissors for the kriah.

“No. I won’t do it,” says Gertie, who must be walked through each step of the funeral as if through the customs process of a country she never meant to visit. She wears a sheath dress that Saul made for her in 1962: sturdy black cotton, with a dart-fitted waistline, front button closure, and detachable belt. “You can’t make me,” she adds, her eyes darting between Rabbi Chaim and her children, who have all obediently slit their clothes above the heart, and though Rabbi Chaim explains that it is not he who can make her but God, it seems that God can’t, either. In the end, the rabbi gives Gertie a black ribbon to cut, and she takes her seat with wounded victory.

Simon has never liked coming here. As a child, he thought the synagogue was haunted, with its rough, dark stone and dank interior. Worse were the services: the unending silent devotion, the fervent pleas for the restoration of Zion. Now Simon stands before the closed casket, air ­circulating through the slit in his shirt, and realizes he’ll never see his ­father’s face again. He pictures Saul’s distant eyes and demure, almost feminine smile. Rabbi Chaim calls Saul magnanimous, a person of character and fortitude, but to Simon he was a decorous, timid man who skirted conflict and trouble—a man who seemed to do so little out of passion that it was a wonder he had ever married Gertie, for no one would have viewed Simon’s mother, with her ambition and pendulum moods, as a pragmatic choice.

After the service, they follow the pallbearers to Mount Hebron Cemetery, where Saul’s parents were buried. Both girls are weeping—Varya silently, Klara as loudly as her mother—and Daniel seems to be holding himself together out of nothing more than stunned obligation. But Simon finds himself unable to cry, even as the casket is lowered into the earth. He feels only loss, not of the father he knew but of the person that Saul might have been. At dinner, they sat at opposite ends of the table, lost in private thought. The shock came when one of them glanced up, and their eyes caught—an accident, but one that joined their separate worlds like a hinge before someone looked away again.

Now, there is no hinge. Distant though he was, Saul had allowed each Gold to assume their separate roles: he the breadwinner, Gertie the general, Varya the obedient oldest, Simon the unburdened youngest. If their father’s body—his cholesterol lower than Gertie’s, his heart nothing if not steady—had simply stopped, what else could go wrong? Which other laws might warp? Varya hides in her bunk. Daniel is twenty, barely a man, but he greets guests and lays out food, leads prayers in Hebrew. Klara, whose portion of the bedroom is messier than everyone else’s, scrubs the kitchen until her biceps hurt. And Simon takes care of Gertie.

This is not their usual arrangement, for Gertie has always babied Simon more than the others. She wanted, once, to be an intellectual; she lay beside the fountain in Washington Square Park reading Kafka and Nietzsche and Proust. But at nineteen, she met Saul, who had joined his father’s business after high school, and she was pregnant by twenty. Soon Gertie withdrew from New York University, where she was on scholarship, and moved into an apartment mere blocks from Gold’s Tailor and Dressmaking, which Saul would inherit when his parents retired to Kew Gardens Hills.

Shortly after Varya was born—far sooner than Saul thought necessary, and to his embarrassment—Gertie became the receptionist at a law firm. At night, she was still their formidable captain. But in the morning, she put on a dress and applied rouge from a little round box before depositing the children at Mrs. Almendinger’s, after which she exited the building with as much lightness as she had ever been capable. When Simon was born, though, Gertie stayed home for nine months instead of five, which turned into eighteen. She carried him everywhere. When he cried, she did not respond with bullish frustration but nuzzled him and sang, as if nostalgic for an experience she had always resented because she knew she would not repeat it. Shortly after Simon’s birth, while Saul was at work, she went to the doctor’s office and returned with a small glass pill bottle—Enovid, it readthat she kept in the back of her underwear drawer.

“Si-mon!” she calls now, in a rich long blast like a foghorn’s. “Hand me that,” she might say, lying in bed and pointing to a pillow just past her feet. Or, in a low, ominous tone: “I have a sore; I’ve been lying too long in this bed,” and though Simon internally recoils, he examines the thick wedge of her heel. “That isn’t a sore, Ma,” he replies. “It’s a blister.” But by then she has moved on, asking him to bring her the Kaddish, or fish and chocolate from the shiva platter delivered by Rabbi Chaim.

Simon might think Gertie takes pleasure in commanding him, if not for the way she weeps at night—snuffled, so her children don’t hear, though Simon does—or the times he sees her curled fetal on the bed she shared with Saul for two decades, looking like the teenager she was when she met him. She sits shiva with a devoutness Simon did not know she could muster, for Gertie has always believed in superstition more than any God. She spits three times when a funeral goes by, throws salt if the shaker falls over, and never passed a cemetery while pregnant, which required the family to endure constant rerouting between 1956 and 1962. Each Friday, she observes the Sabbath with effortful patience, as if the Sabbath is a guest she can’t wait to get rid of. But this week, she wears no makeup. She avoids jewelry and leather shoes. As if in penitence for the failed kriah, she wears her black sheath day and night, ­ignoring the crust of brisket drippings on one thigh. Because the Golds own no wooden stools, she sits on the floor to recite the Kaddish and even tries to read the book of Job, squinting as she holds the Tanakh up to her face. When she sets it down, she appears wild-eyed and lost, like a child in search of her own parents, and then comes the call—“Si-mon!”—for something tangible: fresh fruit or pound cake, a window opened for air or closed against draft, a blanket, a washcloth, a candle.

When enough guests have assembled for a minyan, Simon helps her into a new dress and house slippers, and she emerges to pray. They’re joined by Saul’s longtime employees: the bookkeepers; the seamstresses; the pattern makers; the salesmen; and Saul’s junior partner, Arthur ­Milavetz, a reedy, beakish man of thirty-two.

As a child, Simon loved to visit his father’s shop. The bookkeepers gave him paper clips to play with, or pieces of scrap fabric, and Simon was proud to be Saul’s son—it was clear, by the reverence with which the staff treated him and by his large windowed office, that he was someone important. He bounced Simon on one knee as he demonstrated how to cut patterns and sew samples. Later, Simon accompanied him to fabric houses, where Saul selected the silks and tweeds that would be fashionable next season, and to Saks Fifth Avenue, whose latest styles he purchased to make knockoffs at the shop. After work, Simon was allowed to stay while the men played hearts or sat in Saul’s office with a box of cigars, debating the teachers’ strike and the sanitation strike, the Suez Canal and the Yom Kippur War.

All the while, something loomed larger, closer, until Simon was forced to see it in all its terrible majesty: his future. Daniel had always planned to be a doctor, which left one son—Simon, impatient and uncomfortable in his skin, let alone in a double-breasted suit. By the time he was a teenager, the women’s clothing bored him and the wools made him itch. He resented the tenuousness of Saul’s attention, which he sensed would not last his departure from the business, if such a thing were even possible. He bristled at Arthur, who was always at his father’s side, and who treated Simon like a helpful little dog. Most of all, he felt something far more confusing: that the shop was Saul’s true home, and that his employees knew him better than his children ever did.

Today, Arthur brings three deli platters and a tray of smoked fish. He bends his long, swanlike neck to kiss Gertie’s cheek.

“What will we do, Arthur?” she asks, her mouth in his coat.

“It’s terrible,” he says. “It’s horrific.”

Tiny droplets of spring rain perch on Arthur’s shoulders and on the lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses, but his eyes are sharp.

“Thank God for you. And for Simon,” Gertie says.

On the last night of shiva, while Gertie sleeps, the siblings take to the attic. They’re worn down, washed out, with bleary, baggy eyes and curdled stomachs. The shock hasn’t faded; Simon cannot imagine it ever fading. Daniel and Varya sit on an orange velvet couch, stuffing spurting from the armrests. Klara takes the patchwork ottoman that once belonged to now-dead Mrs. Blumenstein. She pours bourbon into four chipped teacups. Simon hunches cross-legged on the floor, swirling the amber liquid with his finger.

“So, what’s the plan?” he asks, glancing at Daniel and Varya. “You’re heading out tomorrow?”

Daniel nods. He and Varya will catch early trains back to school. They’ve already said goodbye to Gertie and promised to return in a month, when their exams are finished.

“I can’t take any more time off if I’m going to pass,” Daniel says. “Some of us”—he nudges Klara with his foot—“worry about that sort of thing.”

Klara’s senior year ends in two weeks, but she’s already told her family she won’t walk at graduation. (“All those penguins, shuffling around in unison? It’s not me.”) Varya is studying biology and Daniel hopes to be a military doctor, but Klara doesn’t want to go to college. She wants to do magic.

She’s spent the past nine years under the tutelage of Ilya Hlavacek, an aging vaudevillian and sleight-of-hand magician who is also her boss at Ilya’s Magic & Co. Klara first learned of the shop at the age of nine, when she purchased The Book of Divination from Ilya; now, he is as much a father to her as Saul was. A Czech immigrant who came of age between the World Wars, Ilya—seventy-nine, stooped and arthritic, with a troll’s tuft of white hair—tells fantastic tales of his stage years: one he spent touring the Midwest’s grimiest dime museums, his card table mere feet from rows of pickled human heads; the Pennsylvania circus tent in which he successfully vanished a brown Sicilian donkey named Antonio as one thousand onlookers burst with applause.

But over a century has passed since the Davenport brothers invoked spirits in the salons of the wealthy and John Nevil Maskelyne made a woman levitate in London’s Egyptian Theatre. Today, the luckiest of America’s magicians manage theatrical special effects or work elaborate shows in Las Vegas. Almost all of them are men. When Klara visited Marinka’s, the oldest magic shop in the country, the young man at the register glanced up with disdain before directing her to a bookshelf marked Witchcraft. (“Bastard,” Klara muttered, though she did buy Demonology: The Blood Summonings just to watch him squirm.)

Besides, Klara is drawn less to stage magicians—the bright lights and evening clothes, the wire-rigged levitations—than to those who ­perform in more modest venues, where magic is handed from person to person like a crumpled dollar bill. On Sundays, she watches the street magician Jeff Sheridan at his usual post by the Sir Walter Scott statue in Central Park. But could she really make a living that way? New York is changing, anyway. In her neighborhood, the hippies have been replaced by hard-core kids, the drugs by harder drugs. Puerto Rican gangs hold court at Twelfth and A. Once, Klara was held up by men who probably would have done worse if Daniel had not happened to walk by at exactly that moment.

Varya ashes into an empty teacup. “I can’t believe you’re still going to leave. With Ma like this.”

“That was always the plan, Varya. I was always going to leave.”

“Well, sometimes plans change. Sometimes they have to.”

Klara raises an eyebrow. “So why don’t you change yours?”

“I can’t. I have exams.”

Varya’s hands are rigid, her back straight. She has always been uncompromising, sanctimonious, someone who walks between the lines as if on a balance beam. On her fourteenth birthday, she blew out all but three candles, and Simon, just eight, stood on his tiptoes to do the rest. Varya yelled at him and cried so intensely that even Saul and Gertie were puzzled. She has none of Klara’s beauty, no interest in clothing or makeup. Her one indulgence is her hair. It is waist length and has never been colored or dyed, not because Varya’s natural color—the dusty, light brown of dirt in summer—is in any way remarkable; she simply prefers it as it has always been. Klara dyes her hair a vivid, drugstore red. Whenever she does her roots, the sink looks bloody for days.

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The Immortalists 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Bookaholic_Cindy More than 1 year ago
I don't usually talk about the story much when reviewing since the book blurb covers it. But this book deserves more than just I liked it, why I did, why I disliked it, etc. I saw quite a few DNF and 1 star reviews because of a portion of the book. One section doesn't make a book! It entitles the entire novel. What if you were a child in 1969 and went to a fortune teller who told you the date of your death? How would it affect your life? This is what the four Gold children do and we follow them through the years after this incident. The two youngest, Simon and Kharla, leave for San Francisco before Simon is of legal age to follow their dreams. Warning: if gay sex scenes bother you, remember this is when the Aids epidemic first began and Simon is gay. Don't give up on the book because of that! We follow both of their experiences, Simon as a club dancer and Kharla as a magician. While the two older siblings are back at home with their mother, leading more ordinary lives than their siblings. But are they really just ordinary lives? Once told the date of your death, would you ever forget it? When I first started the book, honestly, I wondered if the whole book was filled with sex scenes. And that is why I would hate for someone to miss out on such an interesting novel because of that. But as the book progressed with each family member, it told each of their stories. I have to say, I truly enjoyed this book and thought the author did an excellent job at character development! You'll grow attached to the Gold family and after my iffy beginning, I grew to love Simon the best. Not everyone will agree with me, but that's why we write these reviews. And this is my opinion. I found this to be a touching story of the lives of 4 children growing up and how different, yet the same we all are. My thanks to the author for starting my year off with such a well written novel. * I was provided an ARC to read from the publisher and NetGalley. It was my decision to read and review this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not an uplifting read. Overrated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A bit contrived, but it did show the power of self-fulfilling prophecies. Ending was a bit abrupt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am very glad that I read this book! It was extremely thought provoking. The character & plot development was excellent. I loved the historical throwback as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like how the story tells about each sibling but that it all comes back together at the end. Wasn’t thrilled with the ending tho.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so good. The relationship the children have and how it changes after they meet the old woman, it's such a change. And knowing when you will die is not always good and not always bad. Great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the siblings & the style of writing, but after reading the stories of two of them and part of the third, I told myself that I should stop -- too depressing. I encourage the author to continue writing (she is talented) but to provide more hope interwoven with the sadness -- or even a whole lot of happiness if it can be worked into the tale. Sadness for its own sake is off-putting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read in one day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A different kind of family saga with an ending I didn't see coming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Took me through all life phases of siblinghood and the blessings of family love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Benjamin's book will fill you with many emotions, both good and bad, but you won't want to put it down because it will remind you that none of us has anything more than today. So you'd better make the most of what life offers you and take advantage of the love of family and friends who count on you to keep moving forward. Nice job, Chloe!
Tracey_L More than 1 year ago
I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to read three amazing new releases in this first week of 2018. The Immortalists is one of those three and am I ever so glad it was. First off, I have to correct an earlier impression I had - in pictures the cover looked ok, but nothing exceptional. In person it's absolutely gorgeous and I've found myself petting the book, which isn't a thing I do, but there it is! But that's just the outside, and what counts is the story, and it's one hell of a story. What would you do if you knew the date of your death? That's the journey we are taken on with the four Gold siblings, and it's a journey of immense proportions. This is a story that grabs you and doesn't let go, and for me that was just fine because I didn't want it to end. The characters were real and the incidents were believable and I recognized so many places described. It was a wonderful journey that I'm thrilled to have taken. I was provided a copy of this book by Bookish First in exchange for an honest review.
Alienated_Bookworm less than 1 minute ago
intriguing concept, but execution was a let-down. Characters didn't engage me and I couldn't care less what happened to them.
CaptainsQuarters 20 days ago
Ahoy there me mateys! The tagline “If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?” is what drew me to this novel. I thought it was going to be a fantasy or sci-fi title which is why I read it. Turns out it really is more of a historical fiction novel with a great premise and a not so great resolution. This story tells the tale of four Jewish siblings who grow up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1969 the siblings hear about a mystic who can tell ye the date of yer death. So the siblings set off to hear their fortunes. This be the tale of how they react to their news and what happens to them. I thought the writing was good and the story was compelling in the sense that I had to know how it ended. I listened to the audiobook and thought that the narration by Maggie Hoffman was very well done. But while I enjoyed many elements of the story, I thought that overall what happens to them was kinda crazy and over-the-top. The beginning of the novel up to what happened to the first brother, Simon was the best part. I loved the story of the siblings childhood and how they end up visiting the mystic. Simon ends up going to San Francisco with his sister Klara. Simon is gay and readin’ about the 1980s gay community was interesting though I wasn’t prepared for the number of sex scenes in this section. Simon was by far me favourite sibling. Klara’s tale of wanting to be a female magician is where the book started to fail me. It wasn’t that the subject material or character were uninteresting. It was here where the author’s choices weren’t to me liking. The Klara section was so drawn out. How Klara dies was also just so odd. The author also chooses to make the details of this death vague. I thought it was a lame way to make the prophecy come true. There was a cool setup for a stalker subplot that was a red herring. The next section dealt with Daniel and I kinda hated it. His section felt rushed and how he died and all the events around it were just ridiculous. The last section dealt with the sister Varya. She was a compelling character with OCD and was a science researcher. But her subplot (no details cause spoilers) was also silly. The ending of her section irked me. Other problems were that the mystic used the trope of being a Roma and that I hated the mother’s character and how everyone bent to her will. I feel like I didn’t like the book even though I enjoyed the experience of listening to it. I think it is a great character study with a not so great plot. But this was a New York Times bestseller and a NPR book of the year so what do I know? Arrrr!
sueward1958 28 days ago
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this book. Very pretty cover. It was made more attractive when I learnt how the cover design is symbolic. We follow four children growing up. Right at the start I could see this was going to be “one of those reads” that you just had to ride along on the journey. If you were made aware of a date and time on which you were going to die, would this be a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure myself, I’m completely sitting on the fence. In some instance it’s a good thing, in another it freaks me out. The book is broken into four parts. Each sibling has a story to tell. Each one is unique. There is a strong sexual overdrive within this book which was essential to be written in, it wasn’t good but for some it may come as a shock. So you’ve been warned. Toward the end of the book it’s also difficult to read about animals being mistreated. The era and the mysterious reading of this book on the whole is a completely different aspect to any book I’ve read so far. It was going to be a 3* but on reflection I’ve given it a 4* because the writing is complex, believable and oh so good. It covers the start of the AIDS epidemic, and Las Vegas in the early 1980’s. The author left me with some thought provoking material.
DeediReads 3 months ago
“They began together: before any of them were people, they were eggs, four out of their mother’s millions. Astonishing, that they could diverge so dramatically in their temperaments, their fatal flaws — like strangers caught for seconds in the same elevator.” I read this book because it was the Girls’ Night In January book club selection, and I was not disappointed. This is the perfect book for a book club — there’s a ton to digest, to ruminate about, to discuss. Themes of siblinghood, death, destiny, magic, and love. The book opens on four siblings: Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon. They go visit a gypsy woman who tells them each the day they’ll die. The following four sections of the book follow each of them, in reverse order of age (Simon, then Klara, then Daniel, then Varya) as we wait to see if and how that prophecy will come true. The resulting story is poignant and really makes you wonder whether these events are destined, or whether by knowing about them the siblings bring them about. But it’s a little too perfect to be entirely in their hands. I don’t know — I can’t wait to discuss. The characters were beautiful and rich, and I appreciated the in-depth look we got into each of them, one by one. I think Simon was my favorite. But truly, this book moved along well and made me think, and I definitely recommend.
Anonymous 4 months ago
I will admit I had some misgivings about reading The Immortalists. This type of story, here is the day you die, always disturbs me. After reading this one I can say, it was no exception. I was indeed disturbed. Is it true that you get the results you expect to get? Is there such a concept as fate or destiny or pre-determined whatever? Either of these factors could have been in play here. Then again, there is one more possible explanation. It was all a coincidence. Each life followed an arc that inevitably led to a particular result. But, why? My major thought after reading this book is just why this result? The Immortalists is a debatable smorgasbord of why this or why that. It's an interesting, albeit disturbing, novel.
Anonymous 6 months ago
In 1969, the Gold siblings go to see a mysterious woman who can supposedly tell anyone the day they will die. Each sibling -- Simon, Klara, Danile and Varya -- goes in by themselves to have their prophecy told. And each one finds their own way to cope with what they learn. Simon finds himself in San Francisco in the 80's; Klara dreams of becoming a famous illusionist; Daniel makes his way as an Army doctor; and Varya delves deeply into research into longevity. Spanning multiple decades, The Immoralists follows each sibling in turn as we learn about their prophecy and the choices they make. The book forces us to think about what the difference between fate and the free will -- if we know how things will end up, does that dictate our choices to end up meeting that fate, or were things bound to happen that way anyway? The different POVs and wonderful reading make this a great, thoughtful read.
bookscoffeeandrepeat More than 1 year ago
NOT BAD. "The Immortalists" contained such ordinary ideas with a bit of mysticism that made the overall outcome of the novel quite unique. The novel was about hopeful kids in the 60s who were curious about a certain fortune teller. Right away, the author captured my full attention. These kids in the cusps of adolescence and longing to know about their future seemed to be a clever idea of a coming of age story. I liked the idea that these kids were curious and self-aware. The interesting part especially in the eyes of the reader is how these kids would react to their fortunes being told. The idea of "self-fulfilling prophecies" immediately comes to mind. Will knowing about their futures affect their futures, or are their futures set in stone based on what the mystical woman had told them? I guess you have to read to find out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about four siblings. It starts off with them as kids. They were told the date they will die, by a fortune teller. I found this really cool but also scary. The rest of the book is told by a different sibling in each part of the story. each sibling have different lives and different personalities. We follow four siblings, simon, Klara, Daniel, and varya in their own separate lives. This was a very exciting read for me and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is into these kinds of things
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
Would knowing the date of your death change the way you live? The Immortalists asks you to push your disbelief aside in order to ask yourself that very question and for many readers I think this is impossible to do. I, however, had no problem suspending my disbelief for the sake of the story. After the encouragement of their older brother Daniel, Varya, Klara and Simon head to a fortune-teller who provides each of the four siblings with the date of their death. This is particularly concerning to young Simon, because he’s told that he will die very young. Klara, is also told that she will die fairly young. Knowing this information, the two take off for San Francisco in their teens so they can live their lives to the fullest but what follows is a tragic host of events which ultimately affect their lives and the lives of their siblings. The Immortalists is not a perfect story. Nor is it executed all that well but I did find myself liking Simon’s story quite a bit. As a young gay, Jewish man, the responsibility of running his father’s tailor shop for the rest of his life proved too much for him. I feel that of all the siblings, Simon’s story was the most realistic and yes, the most tragic. I would have been just fine had the entire story been about Simon but that was not the case. All in all, the other stories didn’t fit together well but I still enjoyed the lead-up, except for some very convenient plot lines. As a book club pick, some liked it, many didn’t but we still had a decent discussion. Would you want to know the date of your death? Personally, I would not want to know mine.
Cat Wyatt More than 1 year ago
Would you live your life any differently if you knew when you were going to die? That’s the question The Immortalists wants us to ask ourselves; the question explored by the four main characters of this novel. The Gold siblings all had their fortunes told; specifically they were told which day they were going to die. They were not told how, and they were not required to share what they learned with their siblings. If I was forced to try and sort this book into a specific genre, I think I would struggle with it. It’s different and totally unique. The closest category I can think of is fiction, but that doesn’t really cover it either. It doesn’t imply towards everything in this novel. If you’re looking for a read where you’ll truly connect with the characters, a read where you’ll feel for the characters, then this is probably a good pick for you. Warnings first: So this probably goes without saying, but a story that explores the concept of how we live our lives before we die obviously also covers the death part of it. Two of the deaths are more graphic than the others (and no, I won’t say who dies or how many deaths there are in total). One sibling dies from a horrible disease, and the other from suicide. They’re pretty heart wrenching, to say the least. There is an animal that injures itself later in the book, which is pretty upsetting to read about. I want to make it very clear that she does live though, as that was something I was very very worried about when I was reading it (ironic, I know). I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I started reading The Immortalists. But I can say for certain I got more than I was expecting. Going into this novel, I knew the basic concept; that four siblings were told when they were supposedly going to die. Beyond that I didn’t really know that much. Was the fortune teller correct? Did they even believe her? Did their belief shape how they lived their lives, and thus how/when they died? That was all waiting for me to learn. The novel is more or less split into four even portions, with a quarter going to each of the four siblings. Simon and Klara’s stories are told first, followed by Daniel and Varya’s. It was fascinating to see how different each of the Gold children were, and how much that divide grew as they got older. Because of how different each child is, I think that there’s a good chance each reader will find a particular character they can really connect to. Despite all the questions raised throughout the course of this book, there really aren’t any concrete answers delivered. I feel like we were allowed to form our own opinions and theories about everything, something I greatly appreciated. I’m not going to lie and say that you’ll be smiling the whole way through this novel – you will cry. Or at least, I did. Chloe Benjamin did a wonderful job getting the reader to care about each of the characters (even when I felt myself unwilling to, as I was afraid to get attached to any of them, when I didn’t know who would live or die). It’s understandable that because of this connection between the characters and the reader that you will find yourself getting upset for them or feeling their loss very keenly when the time comes. This book was outstandingly written, and I found myself even more impressed upon learning that this was Chloe Benjamin’s first novel. I never would have guessed that. I fully intend to keep an eye on her works, even if there’s a chance that she’ll make me cry again
Kaci1019 More than 1 year ago
This book devoured me. The Gold siblings learn their fares - or do they? Benjamin writers with assured subtlety, and I was drawn deeply into the world of the four siblings who struggle with the suggestion that they know the dates of their deaths. Each character is compelling and realistic, and each of their worlds comes to life vividly. There's a new challenge or mystery on every page, and the novels draws the reader forward relentlessly. I've rarely read such a combination of drama, beauty, and wisdom. A very interesting view of a topic I've never read of before. Lots of things for us to ponder.. how much of our life would be predetermined if we knew certain things.. a difficult subject handled VERY well.. great read for book groups!
Julie Ringenbach More than 1 year ago
I didn’t love everything about The Immortalists, but I found it powerful in parts, and especially at the end. After giving it some thought, I’m comfortable with a 4 star rating. The book focuses on four siblings. At the beginning, as children and young teens growing up in Manhattan, they visit a fortune teller who tells them separately and secretly the date they will each die. The rest of the book is broken into four parts, each part focusing on one sibling. It’s not so much about whether the prediction is true or not, but about how the prediction affects how they live their lives. In a way, it’s a concept book. How would you live your life if there was a chance you knew the date of your death? But there’s a lot more to the tale Benjamin weaves. These are complex troubled characters - affected by their time in history, their family background and their ties with each other. At times, I found that Benjamin pushed the internal and interpersonal drama a bit too far, but I still wanted to keep reading. And I’m glad I did because the end is perfect. Some reviewers seem to be turned off by early graphic sex scenes. It’s a very small part of the book — and in my view a necessary part of the story at that point — so it shouldn’t deter anyone from reading further. (As an addendum, I should add that toward the end there are a few scenes that may be disturbing to people who have trouble reading about animals being mistreated -- they're not exploitative, but they may be hard to read.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There's only one word that describe The Immortalists best: human. Humanity—and all the painful, awful, horrible, wonderful, sympathetic, unpredictable, unforgivable things that go with it—is the very heartbeat of this book. It's a literary family saga that stretches over five decades, and while it is utterly contemporary, the lyrical sentences and tender (sometimes brutal) emotions read like a magical realism slash thriller. The four Gold siblings learn the days they will die from a psychic—her words continue to haunt each of them over the years, with each quarter of the book advancing the timeline just that little bit further. We see the siblings fight against what they believe to be fate, and we see them hurtle towards it, sometimes of their own making. It leaves the tenuous question in my mind: do any of us really have control over our fate? Even as the siblings grow up and grow apart, the visceral pain they feel about the loss of the others is palpable. Even when they don't talk, even when their bond seems weakest, the love the characters have for each other shines through. The title is derived from Klara (one of my favorite POV characters!) and her husband's magic act, and is very apt. Though by the end of the novel only one Gold sibling is left standing, the book and its beautifully flawed characters have certainly achieved immortality with me. It's a story I won't soon forget. This isn't a book about characters counting down to their death date. On a simplistic level, it's painful and cruel to read about characters knocked over like dominoes. But I haven't read something this unapologetically human in a long time. At its heart, the novel is an empathic read on what it truly means to be family, and above all, what it means to live.