By: Chloe Benjamin
Published Jan. 9, 2018
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?
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.
Their 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, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
It’s an age-old question. If you could know the day you were to die, would you want to know? I guess part of it requires that you believe that everyone has a preordained fate, one that cannot be changed by human action. This question is the basis of the plot of The Immortalists. The book hits pretty much everything. There’s magic, family drama, homosexuality, AIDS, interracial marriage, abortion, religion, war, and more.
Readers follow the lives of four siblings as they attempt to live their lives in spite of being told when they will die. What at first appears to be a book about death turns out to be more about life. Each of the four siblings is handed a unique destiny, and while some try to ignore their fate, others cannot help but fixate on the number of days they have left.
“For so long, he hated the woman, too. How, he wondered, could she give such a terrible fortune to a child? But now he thinks of her differently, like a second mother or a god, she who showed him the door and said: Go.” (98)
I found that the character development was exceptional. Each of the characters were believable and the ways they handled conflict were real and raw. The book had a fairly slow development. Each of the sections of the book focused on the life–and eventual death–of one of the siblings. I enjoyed this organization, but found myself wanting to know more of the sibling’s reactions and thoughts following each death. I wanted to know how they viewed their own mortality in the face of death. I also wanted more of the mother’s thoughts as she experienced the deaths of her children.
“Some magicians say that magic shatters your worldview. But I think magic holds the world together. It’s dark matter; it’s the glue of reality, the putty that fills the holes between everything we know to be true. And it takes magic to reveal how inadequate reality is.” (157)
The Immortalists is a novel that will make you explore deep questions and will hold you accountable to the ways you are living your life right now. You don’t need a fortune teller to tell you when you are going to die to live every day of your life to the fullest without regret.
Answering the question Would I want to know? I honestly don’t think so. I think knowing exactly when I will die is something that I would fixate on instead of living in spite of. I tend to dread particular future plans and I feel like this one would be no different. So, I will choose to make the most out of the present.