Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

immortalists.jpgWell. That was depressing.

In the late 60’s, a group of four siblings visit a strange fortune teller lady whom they’ve heard can predict the date you will die. Each enters her NYC apartment and each is given their date. From there, the story follows each sibling’s life, leading to their death, which – surprise – is the date given to them by the fortune teller.

First is Simon, the youngest sibling. He tells the others that he will die young, but doesn’t divulge his date. He leaves New York with his sister Clara and moves to San Francisco, where he is able to be openly gay and not have to worry about carrying forward his father’s tailoring business, much to the disappointment of his mother and older brother, Daniel. Due to the emerging AIDS epidemic and some carelessness on Simon’s part, he contracts the virus and dies. But, he dies with little regret because he lived the live he wanted to live, knowing it would be cut short.

Clara is next. She moved to San Fran to pursue a career as a magician. Her date of death puts her in her mid-30’s. As she approaches the date, she creates a self-fulfilling prophecy about her death.

Daniel is in his 40’s, and, knowing the fate of his other two siblings (Clara shared her death date with him, and he is aware of Simon’s “die young” date), he uses his date of death as a day of confrontation, thinking he can change it. Spoiler: he doesn’t.

And finally, Varya, who was told she’d live a long life. However, she’s not really “living,” as she has severe OCD and is paranoid of catching diseases or illnesses. She dedicates her career to researching anti-aging by studying and testing on monkeys. She seeks to honor her siblings, who did not reach old age. In doing so, she is led to confront a secret from her past, which connects her back to family.

Like I said up at the top, the book was largely depressing. The story sought to tackle what path one’s life would take if one knew the exact date it ended. Some embrace what time they have and make radical life choices (Simon). Some end things on their own terms (Clara). Some are angry (Daniel) and some choose simply to exist and not live (Varya). We all have to die, but knowing when is a special power. It can either be a blessing or a curse. It makes you think what you would do with that knowledge. How would it change you? Would you take more risks? Take fewer?

Since we don’t have a fortune teller to give us our death date, I suppose the takeaway here is to live. Just live your life. We are all on a path, and that path will take us to its inevitable end.

Curious to see if others have read this book, and what they thought. Whose story was your favorite?

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