Friday, July 6, 2018

Book Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

When I was little, someone told me a story about a person they knew who went to a psychic and found out the day of their death. It haunted them their whole life. I think in the story, they ended up dying on that day, but it was partially a self fulfilled prophecy, the worried themselves to death. After hearing that story, I always knew I would never want to know the day of my death. Reading 'The Immortalists' just confirmed this conviction!

The story is about four siblings who as young children visit a psychic. The psychic sees each one of them alone and tells them the day they will die and they are told not to tell each other.



From there, the story follows the four siblings in their grown up life as they grapple with their possible fate. Simon is a young gay man born in a time where homophobia was the norm and gay men had to struggle to belong in the world. He moves to San Francisco where he finally gets to embrace his identity and thrive in a world he fits into.

Klara is a young woman antsy when surrounded by the ordinary. Most of her life she has been transfixed by the idea of magic, whether the magic the sinister psychic had, or the magic of stage magicians. She works hard to master the techniques of magicianship and creates her own magic show with help from her husband Raj. Despite her ever growing success as a magician, she is haunted by doubt and dread and tries to ease her anxiety with self destructive behavior.

Daniel is a man who strives to find his place in the world within the structure of the military. He becomes a military doctor but the stress of sending men to war and the pressure of strict military rules create a fissure in Daniel that continues to rupture his life even when on leave from his job.

The oldest daughter Varya because a scientist, obsessed with finding a cure to aging, a way to increase longevity.

All of the characters lives become something different than they would have been if they had never gone to the psychic. The siblings spend their life dealing with existential dread that haunts them in a way that wouldn't have if they hadn't had those dates of death told to them. Even though none of the siblings completely believe, they all at least believe the prophecies to a certain degree. And this belief is a curse to them.

Overall, 'The Immortalists' was a very interesting book that forced the reader to grapple with similar feelings of dread about death and knowing that all the characters were constantly dealing with. Even though the readers don't know the dates of our death, we all know death is inevitable and there is a dread linked to the inevitability that mirrors that of the siblings.

Besides mortality, the novel also is about the complexity of sibling relationships. As an only child, I find this subject endlessly interesting.

Most of us read for fun, and while pondering death and fate isn't always a bag of candy, the book really was an enjoyable read that had it's lighter moments in the happiness the characters found by following their hearts and pursuits, and in the end, the book reminds us of the reason we feel dread in dying, because there is joy in living.

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