The book I picked up at my book club recently was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. This was a book I hadn’t heard of before but one that immediately caught my interest, as it tells a powerful story of family and mortality.
The events in The Immortalists begin in 1969 in New York, where a travelling psychic is in residence, claiming that she is able to predict for anyone the date on which they will die. And curiosity gets the better of the four Gold children, who decide to pay her visit, and to hear their fortunes. But aged from just seven through to thirteen, Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya are too young to be burdened by such a prophecy. To hear of their own mortality when their lives have only just begun is something beyond their comprehension. And yet the siblings carry these dates with them, lurking in the back of their minds as they grow older, and forge different paths in life. This novel follows each of the siblings on their individual journeys, to see how the prophecy they were given impacts the way they live, and the choices that they make. This makes for a thought provoking read which asks the question, if you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
The book is split into four sections, each focussing on a different family member as they live their lives with the date of their deaths looming ever closer. I enjoyed this format, which allows the reader to learn more about the individual characters in turn and how they are affected as well as the impact on their relationships with each other. This begins with the youngest of the siblings, Simon, through to the oldest, Varya. And I found each story to be equally as absorbing, and I was interested to see how their characters would develop, and to see where their paths may have taken a different turn, had they not heard the prophecy. I also liked how the timeline used resulted in various themes being explored which were significant at the time and in each characters story. This included matters of sexuality, gender equality, faith and science. The inclusion of these issues added authenticity and depth to the story and it was clearly well researched. Of course the concept of fortune telling gives the story a fantastical, mysterious element but this is ultimately a family saga which spans the lifetimes of four siblings and the challenges they face, and it is one that kept my interest till the end.
I found The Immortalists to be an enjoyable read with an intriguing premise. A story of life and mortality which asks questions about how we live our lives, and in the case of the Gold family, how the knowledge they sought as children shapes their lives forever.