The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (NetGalley Review)

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (January 9, 2018)
Description from the publisher:

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.

The 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; 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.

If you follow book social media, this novel has probably popped up on your radar as one of THE essential books to read this year. It certainly drew me in with the obviously intriguing premise of knowing the date of your death. The description gives off a sort of fantastical or whimsical vibe: what WOULD you do? Would you go crazy feeling invincible? Would you check off your bucket list as soon as possible if your day was sooner than you thought? Would you spiral into despair? Far from fantastical, Benjamin weaves this compelling family story with a surprisingly gritty and melancholy tone. 

Since I'm a fan of dysfunctional family drama, I got wrapped up in the journey of each Gold sibling and especially Klara the Vegas magician. Yes, I'm a big fan of Vegas, especially during the period of time in which Klara inhabits Sin City. But, I felt that this part of the book was the most wrenching collaboration of magic, spirituality and motherhood:

"She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory - to know that she connects a funture unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child."
"Always it's like this: the family that created her and the family that she created, pulling her in opposite directions."

The book holds up a mirror, sometimes harshly, to the ways in which we fail to fully live and embrace our lives. There is hopefulness, but it is rather on the depressing side. It would be an excellent pick for a book group with many big themes to dissect on God, fate, family bonds, faith and destiny, to name a few. If for no other reason, it would be fun to discuss the central question of whether you would want to know the date of you own death and why. As for me, that'd be a big fat nope! And if you read the book, you would probably understand why - Benjamin articulates these themes beautifully.

Thank you to Putnam and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


  1. I had problems with a couple of things in this book but, overall, I *really* enjoyed it; her writing is fantastic and I loved the different stories of the characters. What a unique theme; I'm still thinking about it, which is always a good sign! :)