The Immortalists: It is 1969 New York City, and the Gold children are looking for a little fun. Word had spread through the Lower East Side of a psychic woman who can read fortunes. The four adolescent siblings set out to find this woman and seek answers about their futures. They all possess the desire for self-awareness, mischief, and thrill. And really, what harm could come in a single visit?
The Gold children’s lives are changed by this woman, who informs each child of the date of his or her death. This simple admission then define their lives and choices.
It also makes us wonder just how much knowledge plays into the destiny and fate of our lives.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a story of family and relationships; of fate and reality; and of the power of knowledge and the possibility of the unreal.
After the fateful visit, the book follows the Gold children separately through their lives. Klara and Simon, the youngest children, run away to San Fransisco. Klara works at an office during the day while attempting to pursue a career in magic at night. Meanwhile, Simon finds freedom in his sexuality as a young gay man in this liberated city. He is reckless and uninhibited, and we soon find out why: He is the first to die.
Simon dies on the the exact date that the psychic told him. It could be mere coincidence, and he did die of AIDS at the height of the epidemic … but what if his knowledge of his short life changed his mindset? What if he lived carelessly because he knew of his short life?
The book continues to follow each sibling through the decades.
Klara, who finds love and amateur success as a magician, is plagued by guilt in regards to her brother’s early death. She succumbs to bouts of depression, alcoholism, and mental instability. Daniel becomes an Army doctor in the post 9/11 world and attempts to control every aspect of his life. Varya, the oldest sibling, is a research scientist who studies longevity and aging; her decades-long experiment on aging is a thinly-veiled attempt to defy mortality and science.
What is clear is that this psychic visit from their childhood defines each of their lives.
For Simon, the knowledge of a short life allows him the freedom to do and be what he chooses. He lives unapologetically and to the fullest, knowing that he has little time left. For Klara, this knowledge causes her to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. She eventually loses her self in what is real and what is in her mind. Daniel finds comfort in control, and it is his vain attempts to control all aspects of life that become his downfall. Varya, the dedicated daughter and scientist, makes her research in longevity her entire life at the sacrifice of her actual life.
The book leaves us with many questions. Is our life and fate predetermined? How influential is knowledge of the future to our actual futures? Can knowledge actually hurt us?
The Immortalists is a heartbreaking and thought-provoking novel that I finished in just a few days; I found myself enraptured with the characters and their choices. To find out how the Gold children fare, you’ll have to read it yourself. We highly recommend it!