The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (2018)



I liked this book–just not all of it. First, I found the back cover description a bit misleading.  I think it mentioned magical realism, and though the opening scene–and the premise on which characters may make many decisions–takes place in the home of a fortune teller, the story is actually literary realism, not magical realism (I was expecting something Gabriel Garcia Marquez-ish). It’s 1969 in New York, and the four Gold children visit a fortune teller because it’s intriguing, and though we know each child has probably heard something different, we don’t know until later that the “fortune” told to each of them was the day of their death. The rest of the book delves separately into their lives: Simon who leaves home before finishing high school to live in San Francisco, Klara who heads for a life of performance art as a magician and illusionist, Varya who stays near home to care for her mom and eventually becomes a longevity researcher, and Daniel who becomes a military doctor and who bored me. His chapter is the one in which I lost interest–and also seemed the most far-fetched in terms of behavior and motive (although part of Varya’s story seemed a bit off the rails as well).  Simon and Klara’s stories kept be glued to the book. I enjoyed being transported into their respective lives: Simon diving into the late 70s San Francisco gay community and Klara clawing away at a lonely but exhilarating life of a stage performer.

The concept of hearing your own date of death and how much–if at all–that informs the way we live our lives is an intriguing and disturbing idea.  Disturbing because these are children, and children are more easily swayed toward the illogical without life experience to balance them. We see, in the end, the impact the information had on each of them, making us ponder the question: what would we do if we were told our own death dates? Would it alter our decisions? Would it control us? Does this information control/shape these characters’ personalities and decisions or or is it the other way around?

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