The Immor­tal­ists

  • Review
By – March 1, 2018

If you found out when you were going to die, how would your life change?

Chloe Ben­jamin fix­ates on this ques­tion in her nov­el The Immor­tal­ists, a sto­ry about the Golds, a Jew­ish fam­i­ly liv­ing in New York City in the late 1960s. After their father dies, the four sib­lings, Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya, become pre­oc­cu­pied with the idea of death. They seek out a for­tune teller who claims to know when each of them will die; what they find out ends up chang­ing the course of their lives. While the nov­el con­tains mys­ti­cal ele­ments and asks larg­er-than-life ques­tions, it is also a relat­able sto­ry that deals with the com­plex­i­ties of rela­tion­ships and loss.

Each chap­ter focus­es on one sib­ling, tak­ing the read­er on four dis­tinct jour­neys span­ning fifty years. Each char­ac­ter carves a dif­fer­ent path as they grap­ple with their loom­ing death date and ful­fill their own notions of a mean­ing­ful life.

Despite their diverse paths, the sib­lings’ shared Jew­ish upbring­ing (and their guilt-trip­ping Jew­ish moth­er) seeps into all of their head­spaces. Reli­gion doesn’t seem to be so far off from mag­ic — their mys­te­ri­ous expi­ra­tion date can some­how be inter­twined with their take on Judaism. We can see how each char­ac­ter copes with the two when they seek answers from one while ques­tion­ing the other:

If noth­ing else, Judaism had taught her to keep run­ning, no mat­ter who tried to hold her hostage. It had taught her to cre­ate her own oppor­tu­ni­ties, to turn rock into water and water to blood. It had taught her that such things were possible.

Ben­jamin cap­tures the diverse ways peo­ple cope with the fact of their own death, and leaves read­ers mus­ing over whether it’s des­tiny or choice that ulti­mate­ly deter­mines the course of people’s lives.

Michelle Zau­rov is Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s pro­gram asso­ciate. She grad­u­at­ed from Bing­ham­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, where she stud­ied Eng­lish and lit­er­a­ture. She has worked as a jour­nal­ist writ­ing for the Home Reporter, a local Brook­lyn pub­li­ca­tion. She enjoys read­ing real­is­tic fic­tion and fan­ta­sy nov­els, espe­cial­ly with a strong female lead.

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