Knowing you’re going to die: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists is a sweeping novel about four siblings and their lives with and without each other. In New York City in the late 1960s, the four Gold children visit a woman who it is promised will tell them each the date of their death. The siblings—aged seven to thirteen—must then deal with what they’ve each been told. They’re all very different and they choose to live their lives in different ways, but everything seems irrevocably changed by what they found out from that fortune teller.
The narrative follows each sibling through a chunk of time, whilst filling in details about the others: Simon, the youngest, who leaves home for San Francisco to find love and acceptance; Klara, the unstable magician; Daniel, who becomes an army doctor; and Varya, the oldest, who shields herself with science. In many ways—its setting, cast of related characters, depiction of major time periods such as the AIDS crisis and post-9/11 America—it is very typical of an American novel with an epic yet personal scope, and it isn’t difficult to see connections to many other books. However, there is something about the conceit of being told as a child when you will die along with the varied and sometimes unsteady relationships between the siblings that makes The Immortalists better than another rehashing of a similar theme.
It is easy to say that The Immortalists is a book about living rather than a book about dying. However, maybe, as the title suggests, it is also a book about both knowing you aren’t immortal, and wondering if you could be. This is a novel for those who like getting deeply involved with characters, whilst also knowing that their time with them has to come to an end.