Rating: 3.5 Stars
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is the sort of book that I hardly ever pick up to read. From all the reviews and pictures on Instagram, I was somehow under the impression that it was a fantasy novel! Yeah, I know. That’s how closely I read all the reviews! Actually, when there is so much noise around a particular book, I try to avoid reading it until it has all died down. The only problem with resisting this book was its cover. I am totally, completely in love with this cover. I can truthfully say that this is one book that I judged by its cover!
The story starts in 1969, when the four Gold siblings Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon decide to visit a fortune-teller. There are rumours that this woman can tell the date of your death. The siblings enter her place one by one, and when they come out, nothing is the same ever again.
The narrative spans from 1978 to 2010 as it follows the four siblings, all of them transformed by that one afternoon at the fortune-teller’s. Life takes them all on different paths when their father dies suddenly and they are faced with the question of mortality. Simon and Klara run away to San Francisco, while Daniel and Varya are left behind to take care of their mother.
Simon, who is the youngest and has not even finished high school, becomes a dancer and loses himself in the hedonistic world of San Francisco in the early 80s. His mother, who is already reeling from her husband’s death, is left stunned when her youngest and most favourite child runs away.
Klara, who has always wanted to be a magician, struggles to find a foothold in a business dominated by men. Her struggles to find her place in the world and to keep her demons away lead her to Las Vegas where she dreams of making it big.
Daniel, stays firm on his chosen path, studies medicine, gets married, and goes on to become a doctor in the army in the 2000s. However, even his practicality cannot stop him from regretting the afternoon when he convinced his siblings to go and see the fortune-teller.
Varya, the oldest and the most studious, has to stay at home looking after her mother after Simon runs away. Eventually, she studies science and goes into longevity research, becoming obsessed with finding the secret to immortality.
The conflict between religion and science, faith and proof, is a recurring theme in the book, as all the four children question the faith of their devout Jew parents. It also raises the question of whether the choices you make can change your fate. It tells the story of how sometimes the lines can blur between illusion and reality, and how there are some things that defy explanation. Above all, it is an ode to all siblings, close or strained, who are tied together by an invisible bond of blood.
I love reading books about siblings, because they remind me of my own relationships. My bond with my siblings is something that I hold very dear. This book gives rise to so many conflicting emotions, that you cannot help but feel emotionally drained at the end. I might not agree with a lot of things in the book, but that is only because of my own background and prejudices. For me, this was a superlative read. Oh, and one extra star for that gorgeous cover!
Fair warning: This book has religion, atheism, sexism, racism and homo sexuality. It is an unforgettable book if read with an open mind, and a mine of controversy if read with preconceived notions. It is not for anyone who gets offended by a non-conforming view of religion, or finds homosexuality an affront to their sensibilities.