Friday, January 19, 2018

Julie's Journal : The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists has been generating a lot of buzz in the literary world.  It was featured on the front cover of this month's BookPage and reviews call it "wise" and "luminous" and a "sweeping family saga."  The premise is intriguing.  The scene is New York City, 1969.  Four siblings, ages 13 and under, visit a psychic who claims to be able to see the dates of death of her visitors.  The book promises to examine how the knowledge of their death date affects the lives of all the children.

After the prophecy, we get each sibling's story individually.  Simon, the youngest, has been told a very early death date.  Because of this, he leaves his family at 16 to go to San Francisco and immerse himself in the gay culture of the early 80's.  Klara goes to San Francisco with Simon and becomes the illusionist she always wanted to be.  She becomes more successful when she meets her husband/partner and he begins helping her recreate elaborate illusions her grandmother performed.  However, she can't escape her own demons.  Daniel becomes a military doctor, but becomes obsessed with the fortune teller who foretold their deaths and his pursuit of her leads to tragedy.  Varya, who is told that she will live to be 88, becomes a scientist and researcher.  She uses animals to test theories about longevity.   

I was intrigued by the premise of The Immortalists, but very disappointed in the actual book.  Questions are raised about whether or not the death dates are set in stone or whether the knowledge of the dates leads the children to make decisions that lead them to die on those particular days.  This was the idea that drew me to the book, but it seemed to be an afterthought with the author.  There is no conclusion drawn about if their lives would have been different or better had they not known their death dates.  Also, the siblings' stories are all very dark.  There was nothing hopeful about this book.  None of them lived pleasant, enjoyable lives.  Even towards the end, in Varya's story, we only get a small glimmer of hope, but it is not enough to offset the darkness of the book.  I was turned off by the graphic sexual scenes in this book as well.  I nearly walked away from it during Simon's story due to the unnecessarily graphic scenes.  It gets better after that, but there are still jarring sexual moments in the book that do not serve any purpose.  I wonder why modern writers believe that they have to saturate their books in sexuality to be taken seriously. 

All in all, I did not enjoy The Immortalists, and I cannot recommend it. 

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