Summary and book reviews of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists

A Novel

by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin X
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 5, 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat

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About this Book

Book Summary

A dazzling family love story reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You from a novelist heralded by Lorrie Moore as a "great new talent."

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

1.

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. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Immortalists explores the degree to which we shape our own destinies—do you believe that the siblings' fate was preordained? Why or why not?
  2. The novel takes place in very different settings—1960s New York City, the San Francisco dance scene, glitzy Las Vegas hotels. In what ways do these locations affect the characters? Why do you think all four of the siblings moved away from New York City?
  3. The Immortalists is narrated by the four siblings in separate sections. What was your reading experience when you switched sections? Did you identify more closely with certain siblings?
  4. The power of belief—whether it be magic, religious faith, or storytelling—...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It is perhaps Benjamin's deftness in writing about familial matters that is most exquisite. From section to section, the reader is made to empathize with the brothers and sisters as they navigate a shared inner conflict between family duty and personal desires with their looming death days in mind. With uncluttered incisive prose, the author constantly brings to light the quiet tensions and bonds operating just under the surface of the relationships between the Gold family.

As such The Immortalists would have perhaps benefited from a lengthier showing that would have allowed for a smattering of calculated detours to more accurately reflect the winding, haphazardness of everyday life. Ultimately, this criticism serves as a testament to Benjamin's effortless writing style and the likeability of her characters that by the end, the reader wishes they had been given more time to spend with each of the four siblings.   (Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

Full Review Members Only (1049 words).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
2018's First Must-Read.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. An imaginative and satisfying family saga ... a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal.

Library Journal
Starred Review. The narratives [Benjamin] offers are intriguingly intertwined and beautifully rendered....Thought-provoking and entertaining.

Author Blurb Richard Russo
Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists is the very best kind of literary thriller, its suspense deriving from characters we care about deeply and surprises that feel embedded in our shared humanity. As profound a meditation on destiny as readers are likely to encounter.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler
For someone who loves stories about brothers and sisters, as I do, The Immortalists is about as good as it gets. A memorable and heartfelt look at what might happen to a family who knows too much. It's amazing how good this book is.

Author Blurb Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
A beautiful, compassionate, and even joyful novel. Chloe Benjamin has written an inspiring book that makes you think hard about what you want to do with the time you're given. This is not really a book about dying - it's a book about how to live.

Author Blurb Judith Claire Mitchell, author of A Reunion of Ghosts
A literary tour de force ... Benjamin subtly but trenchantly examines issues of mortality and immortality, destiny and self-determination, magic and science, the past and the future, and the trials and joys of our fleeting but precious existences. A beautifully written page-turner, unpredictable and unforgettable, The Immortalists is ultimately a thoughtful and tender look at how we live our lives in our fraught and perilous times.

Reader Reviews

Becky H

If you knew when you would die?????
THE IMMORTALISTS follows four children throughout their lives. The children visit a woman who tells them their death date. That knowledge compels each of the young people to follow a different pathway through life. A gay boy who is uncertain of his ...   Read More

lani

A life of quandary
A fascinating read that provoked a lot of discussion with my friends regarding the main premise. If you were offered the knowledge of the date of your death, would that information be welcome or despised? Four young children from the lower East Side...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Romani Fortune Tellers

Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists begins with four children visiting a fortune teller in New York in the '60s. The fortune teller is nameless. Her whereabouts is only gleaned from hearsay and neighborhood gossip. What's more, the psychic is said to regularly change address to avoid being detected by the authorities. Despite being shrouded in mystique, she still manages to attract a regular clientele of New Yorkers who swear by the precise insight she has to offer through her clairvoyance.

Later in the book, it transpires the fortune teller is Romani and comes from a tight-knit family of immigrants who, despite having lived in America for years, have managed to not allow a great influx of outside influence to mar their cultural identity. ...

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