The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
If you knew the date of your death, how would you choose to live the rest of your life? In the late ’60s in New York’s Lower East Side, word spreads of a psychic who can predict the date a person will die. The four Gold children visit this mysterious seer, unprepared for what they will hear and how this knowledge will define each sibling’s life.
First, we travel with Simon, who escapes his predestined role in the family business to run away to San Francisco and become a dancer. Part two follows Klara, whose childhood fascination with stage magic and the children’s mysterious grandmother leads her to a career on stage and a tenuous grip on reality following Simon’s death. Eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor, and becomes compelled to track down the gypsy woman the children visited. Finally, the eldest, Varya, is a studious longevity researcher testing the boundaries of science and mortality but living a life paralysed by fear.
The Immortalists is a novel about fate and agency, about family and self-identity, and the subsequent struggle between guilt and forgiveness. Mortality is something that’s never far from my mind, but The Immortalists is not about death; rather it’s about life and what we do with the time we have. Chloe Benjamin’s clear writing and clever structure weave threads of magic, destiny, Jewish lore and complex family ties into an engrossing, tender and thought-provoking journey. It’s an ideal book-group choice with plenty to unpack and discuss.