The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Immortalists CoverIn 1969, on New York’s Lower East Side, young Daniel Gold hears a rumor. There is a woman in town, a fortune teller, who can tell you the exact date of your death. Daniel and his three siblings visit the woman and what she tells them impacts each of their lives in dramatic ways.

Simon, the youngest, runs away with his sister Klara to San Fransicso after she graduates high school. There he enmeshes himself in the gay community through the 80’s. He finds a community, a passion for dance, and love in the Golden Gate City. The mysterious fortune teller’s prophecy that he would die “young” drives Simon to live life as fully as possible, including taking some dangerous risks along the way.

Klara, the next oldest, leaves for the west coast as soon as she finishes school, following her dream to become a magician. In the Golden Gate City she polishes her skills before falling in love and going on the road. Eventually, her act makes it all way to Las Vegas, where Klara has the chance to perform in front of some of the largest audiences of her life. But the specter of fear follows Klara. She is perhaps the most affected by the prophecy of her death and as her date draws closer, Klara finds herself unraveling.

Daniel puts the woman’s words almost completely from his mind. He becomes a doctor, using his skills for the armed forces recruitment efforts after the September 11 attacks in New York. Daniel lives a comfortable life with his wife and the prophecy of his death seems like a distant memory until Daniel is approached by an FBI agent who is investigating the family of the fortune teller he and his siblings visited so many years ago.

Varya, the eldest, buries herself in her longevity research to hide from her fears. She lives a very structured life, bending to the will of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Varya is living a comfortable, if very restrictive, life when something she thought she left in her past comes back to disrupt her order and challenge all of her fears.

Review:

Ok, I’ll admit that I did not read the description thoroughly before reading this book. I got as far as “a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die” before mistakenly assuming this novel would be at least scifi adjacent. It wasn’t, but that almost makes it more interesting.

The women who the Gold children meet does indeed tell them the dates on which they will die. But what happens from there, and whether her prophecies will come true, is all in the hands of the characters. This book explores intricate and complex family relationships. But (I think) more interestingly, it also questions the concept of blame and responsibility.

Is the woman right about their deaths because she really does have the power to see people’s fates? Or is her power merely in the suggestion, and the belief instilled in weak minds? Daniel’s story especially addresses this question specifically.

All things told, this book was slightly out of my wheelhouse. But as contemporary novels go, I did enjoy it. Even when I didn’t feel compelled by the relationships and interactions.

 

Find this book on: Goodreads

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