How would you live if you knew the exact day you were going to die?
That’s the question Chloe Benjamin asks in her thought-provoking new novel, The Immortalists.
It’s 1969 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the four Gold siblings—Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon—hear about a psychic in their neighborhood who professes to know how long they have to live.
Initially we hear only Varya’s fate (she’ll live to be 88), but we see how varied the characters’ reactions are to what they’ve heard. Simon, the enigmatic youngest, moves to San Francisco looking for a place he can feel at home. Klara follows her dream of being a magician all the way to Las Vegas. Daniel becomes an army doctor, and Varya throws herself into her work as a research scientist studying longevity.
Told in four sections from each sibling’s perspective, The Immortalists raises questions about fate, faith and family. Is destiny ironclad or can we change what’s in the cards? Does knowing when you’ll die encourage you to live life to the fullest, or does it cause more harm than good?
Some of the book’s central mysteries are more surprising than others. (Simon, for example, is a gay man living in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis.) But even if you’re not frantically turning the pages to find out who croaks when, you’ll definitely be gripped by the very real characters face-to-face with their own mortality.
Discuss it with your book club—add in a couple bottles of Sauv Blanc, while you’re at it.