Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Immortalists

Title:  The Immortalists
Author:  Chloe Benjamim
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0735213186 / 978-0735213180

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Varya is thirteen."

Favorite Quote:  "She knew that stories did have the power to change things:  the past and the future, even the present ... the power of words. They weaseled under door cracks and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations."

If you knew the day you were going to die, how differently would you live your life? Does your belief or lack of belief in that piece of information determine your choices? Is it your choices that make the prophecy come true, or was it predestined anyways? If you are given this information, does your belief or lack of belief even matter? Is the knowledge alone enough to influence your choices?

These are the questions this book grapples with. The story is told through the eyes of the four Gold siblings - Varya, Simon, Klara, and Daniel. It is the summer of 1969 in New York's Lower East Side. Varya is 13, Daniel is 11, Klara is 9 and Simon is 7. The Gold children hear of a woman with the ability to tell your future. In particular, the psychic claims the ability to tell anyone the day they are going to die.

They latch on to the idea and find the woman. Individually, they meet with her and then go running. What starts out as a harmless adventure rattles all of them. The question remains. Is it the knowledge that leads to the path or was the path pre-determined? Regardless, the information causes irrevocable changes in their lives.

The book then continues the story in what feels like four connected novellas - one for each of the siblings. The book begins with Varya's voice in that fateful summer. Simon's story goes from 1978-1982. Klara's story picks up the thread in 1982 and continues through 1991. Daniel's story joins in 1991 and continues through 2006. Finally, the book ends again with Varya's story.

The stories, particularly Simon's, also picks up on the social history of the times. Mind you, the stories are not always easy reading. The characters are not always likable. However, what remains is that throughout the lives of these individuals, I see peeking through the children that they were when given the burden of knowledge. In that way, the book reminds of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  The stories have the qualities of a train wreck - terrible things happen and catastrophic decisions are made; yet, as a reader, I cannot look away. Regardless of the bad choices, I care about these children and what happens to them. I want things to work out for them.

The book begins with what is the most compelling of the stories - Simon's. It is heartbreaking and terrible to watch what happens to this young man even when much of it happens by his own choices. The least engaging and perhaps most unbelievable of the stories is Daniel's. Perhaps, that is by intent for Daniel refuses to acknowledge a belief in the prophecy. Yet, his decisions belie that statements. He sets out to make things right, but his choice leads to something completely different. It leads back to the question of choice or destiny.

As expected, the book also makes some strong statements about life and belief. Some of the ones I find memorable:
  • "Nobody picks their life. I sure didn't ... Here's what happens:  you make choices, and then they make choices. You choices makes choices."
  • "Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence - fall in love, have children, buy a house - in the face of all evidence there's no such thing? The trick is not the convert them. The trick is to get them to admit it."
  • "Life isn't just about defying death ... It's also about defying yourself, about insisting on transformation. As long as you can transform, my friends, you cannot die. What does Clark Kent have in common with the chameleon? Right when they're on the brink of destruction, they change. Where have they gone? Nowhere we can see. The chameleon has become a branch. Clark Kent has become Superman."
A memorable book that leaves me with the firm belief that I do not ever wish to pursue the knowledge given to these children. True or not, believed or not, it changes lives. Words matter, and thoughts matter.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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