I picked up Chloe Benjamin’s debut novel The Immortalists because of the concept. I kept reading because the characters are achingly beautiful and the writing is just as good. I read it in two sittings.
The premise is simple; what would you do if you knew the exact date of your death? If you knew you would die young, would you be more reckless? If you knew you would die of old age, would you be extra careful to ensure you didn’t jeopardize your long life and kark it early?
We meet the Gold siblings when they are very young in 1970s New York. When older brother Daniel hears from a friend that there is a gypsy fortune teller that can predict the exact date of your death, he convinces his brothers and sisters that they should all go. Daniel, Varya, Klara, and Simon enter the gypsy woman’s room one by one and each receives the date of their death. Afterward, all are overwhelmed by the news and none are willing to share what they were told.
You would think that a book centered around death would be depressing and, I won’t lie, The Immortalists is very sad but it is also a beautiful tribute to family, love, and loss. Author Chloe Benjamin plays with this idea of fate so beautifully; if Simon had ignored the gypsy’s prediction of his early death, could Simon have changed his future? Or does this knowledge render his youthful death inevitable?
The Immortalists is told in four parts, following each sibling’s story of how they live their lives exactly to their death date. In truth, Klara’s part affected me more than I expected and it is also one of my favorites. She is a loose cannon of a character, suffers from alcoholism and depression but she is also the character who feels the most. Her chapters are filled with magic, love, adventure, depression, and family. It wasn’t that I connected with her the most on a personal level, in fact, I probably felt most in line with Daniel, but I loved the elements of Klara’s story. She is obsessed with magic, is preparing a one-woman stage show and is The Immortalist that makes up the book’s title.
Each of the Gold siblings’ stories has stayed with me long after I turned the last page. It has really made me wonder how I would react to the knowledge of my own death date. Would I change everything, continue on as I do because I know it is inevitable, or would I try my best to prove that date wrong? The more I think about it, the more I can’t decide so maybe I should just avoid fortune tellers in general.