Chloe Benjamin: The Immortalists
Published By: Tinder Press
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.
Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the ‘knowledge’ given to them that day – but it will shape the course of their lives forever.
What I Say:
“So this is how it started: as a secret, a challenge, a fire escape they used to dodge the hulking mass of their mother..”
In 1969, the four Gold children, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon hear of a mysterious psychic woman who can tell you the date on which you will die. Intrigued and perhaps needing some distraction from the endless summer days, they decide to seek her out.
One by one, the children are called in to hear the date on which they will die. From that point on, we as readers watch what happens in each of their lives until the day of their death. Chloe asks us all an important question. If you knew the date of your death, how would you choose to live?
The four sections of The Immortalists follow each child – we live their lives with them, and see how the psychic’s revelation has impacted the decisions they make.
Simon, aware that he is expected to take over his father’s tailoring business, realises that he now has a chance to explore who he really is. In finding the courage to move away from New York to San Francisco, he can finally embrace his sexuality and creativity.
“In New York, he would live for them, but in San Francisco, he could live for himself”.
Klara and Simon decide to leave New York together, and while Klara temps by day and practises her magic by night, Simon starts dancing professionally. He takes classes at the San Francisco Ballet Academy, and it is there he meets Robert, another dancer, and they start a relationship and fall in love. Acutely aware of his mortality, and that the date of his death is fast approaching, Simon becomes increasingly hedonistic and cheats on Robert numerous times.
As we know each character has been told the date of their death, I found that there was an extra dimension to the book. We are as much in the dark as the characters as to how they will die, but we know it is going to happen. It made me turn the pages even faster, wanting to know, but not wanting to read how the Gold children pass away.
Throughout The Immortalists, Chloe cleverly weaves American history through the lives of our protagonists. For Simon, he lives in a time of the AIDS epidemic, and eventually he falls ill and is hospitalized. The first date the psychic has predicted comes true, and the Gold family loses their youngest son.
“Klara won’t be a woman who is sawed in half or tied in chains -nor will she be rescued or liberated. She’ll save herself, she’ll be the saw”.
Klara, who had been in San Francisco with Simon is distraught at his death, as she chillingly realises that the first prediction was right. She now has to navigate her way through her life, aware that an imminent death sentence is hanging over her head.
Her passion has always been magic, and attempting to gain recognition in a heavily male dominated world takes all her energy and determination. When she meets Raj, they go into business together, she can concentrate on refining her magic, he attempts to further her career by booking different venues and assisting her off stage.
What becomes clear even as they fall in love and have a baby called Ruby, is that Klara is frustrated by Raj’s attempts to determine her life. Perhaps she is already aware that she has a time limit set on her existence, and she wants to be in control of the time she has left. Raj pushes Klara to work in Las Vegas, a situation she is clearly uncomfortable with, and she realises her daughter will have to live without her, and grieves all the milestones she will miss. As the date of her death approaches, she is convinced she hears Simon trying to communicate with her. Klara decides to remove herself from her family and again the psychic’s next prediction proves to be true.
Klara and Simon left their siblings Varya and Daniel back in New York, and they have had to change their lives in order to be around to care for their mother. I wonder if they hadn’t visited the psychic, would this be where the remaining Gold children found themselves – tied to the family home and resentful of Klara and Simon’s freedom.
As the novel moves on, we learn that Daniel is in contact with Raj and Ruby, and that they have continued Klara’s act and are now millionaires. Daniel struggles with his relationship with them, he does not trust Raj, and is jolted by how much Ruby reminds him of Klara. He has been demoted at work, and as the day of his death approaches, he becomes consumed with the idea of finding the psychic who put the whole chain of events into motion.
Daniel works with Eddie O’Donoghue, a police officer known to Klara and Simon, who tells him that the woman was part of a team of con artists, but they are unable to trace her. Feeling he has nothing to lose, Daniel decides to try to find her, to find an answer as to whether she really can predict their deaths. If she truly is a con artist, than maybe her predictions are baseless and he has a chance to change his life and its ending.
As he searches desperately to find the woman, called Bruna, we feel his anguish and mounting exasperation as he attempts to get the answers he wants to find before his death. Eddie and Daniel’s wife Mira find him, holding a gun to Bruna as she chants;
“Akana mukav tut le Devlesa”
“I now leave you to God”
The final Gold child, Varya, has decided that her life is going to be very different from that of her siblings. Instead of living, Varya merely exists. She works at the Drake Institute for Research on Ageing, which is invested in researching conditions such as Parkinsons, heart disease and cancer. The Institute’s aim is to increase human longevity, something we recognise as very poignant for Varya, especially considering how her siblings passed away (and no I am not going to tell you..!).
Varya has sealed herself off from the world around her, only interacting with her mother. She does not have friendships or relationships, her whole life is planned and organised with meticulous detail, her apartment is sparse and sterile, devoid of any personality.
“Fear that she had no control, that life slipped through one’s fingers no matter what”.
A young journalist called Luke arrives at The Institute and Varya finds herself inexplicably drawn to him, confiding in and talking to him about herself and her life. As she talks, she starts to examine the choices she has made in light of the date the psychic gave her, and wonders whether she is really doing the right thing. A devastating revelation from Luke, sends Varya completely off course, questioning everything she believed to be her safe compartmentalised reality.
Varya is responsible for a high-profile twenty year study at the Institute, which looks at the effect of dietary choices on monkeys. Against all her professional judgement, she finds herself empathising with Frida, one of the monkeys in the controlled diet group and releases her with disastrous results.
Fired from her job, and reeling from Luke’s story, Varya now has a choice. To retreat from her life and the family she has left, or to take a leap of faith, embrace her mortality and truly live.
Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya are by no means perfect. They have their faults, their foibles and their issues, but they are human. Chloe’s skilful writing portrays a family that we can empathise with, people we can understand and a dilemma we can all relate to.
The Immortalists is a novel that picks you up from the first page and hurtles you along with the life of the Gold children. The writing is tender, eloquent and achingly poignant. It provokes not only intense reactions to the story, but made me re-examine the way I live my life too. It made me realise that I would rather look back on my life and know that I have given it my all, instead of wondering “what if?”.
Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya are three-dimensional, living, loving and wonderful characters. Every single one of them made me want to reach into the novel, bring them close and tell them that we understand the choices they have made and the lives they have lived, and that we love them for it.
The Immortalists is already one of my favourite books of 2018, and I truly loved it.