The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Date Read: April 16 to April 29, 2019
Rating: 5 (of 5) stars
Would you want to know the day that you are going to die? This story is built around a fairly simple premise, but unwinds into an intricate and complex tale of family and relationships. As children, four siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, visit a woman that people say can tell your future—specifically the day that you will die. Over the course of the novel, the following 40-ish years, we get to know each of the siblings a bit better in their own rite, as well as in relation to their family.
While reading, I loved and hated each one of the siblings. I adored their individuality, I cursed their faults, and I grieved each of their subsequent deaths. There were so many points that I could not put it down, even when I had a sinking feeling of what was coming. The story of each sibling is vibrant and emotional; despite the huge differences in how they chose to live in the time they were told they had remaining. The obvious discussion, which is even mentioned on the back cover, is the intertwining of fate and choice. Would Simon have lived so recklessly if he had not anticipated dying young– would he have lived longer if he had played it safe? How did knowledge of a death date play into Klara’s obvious mental illness, and would she have met the same end without it? Even Daniel, who claims to not believe the prophecy, is driven by the knowledge to actions that seem spectacularly out of character. While there could certainly be much said here, I thought the sibling relationship aspect was even more interesting, in the context of the impending dates.
After each death, we get a glimpse of that character from the view of the next, with trails of these through each sibling’s story. In each case, the surviving siblings carry with them some perceived responsibility for those before them. Is Klara responsible for Simon because she encouraged him to live his life? Is Daniel responsible for any of this by convincing his siblings to see the woman in the first place? What about Varya, who was oldest and should have known to put a stop to it? In her meeting with the woman, Varya asks, “what if I change?” Was her destiny determined before she asked, or was it the knowledge of her death date that changed her?
As expected, the novel overwhelmingly centers on death. However, it is also full of life—the richness of each story is intriguing and compelling. I loved the ending, which I thought contrasted with the first sections, but fit perfectly in the context of the full story. In a novel about death, we end on a note of life and hope for the future.
Boris’s thoughts: “After all of that… no, I don’t think I want to know the day I will die. I would, however, like to take a nap. 2 paws.”