Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Fiction Review: The Immortalists

One of the books on the list for Booktopia this year was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. I was excited when I saw that, since this novel has been getting so much press since its release in January, was on the best-seller list for months, and I had heard it discussed on several of my favorite book podcasts. Unfortunately, the author got sick and couldn't attend Booktopia, but I enjoyed reading the novel. It's a unique premise with a dark underbelly.

The story begins in New York City in the summer of 1969. Four Jewish siblings, living in a crowded apartment with their parents, hear about a fortune teller and sneak out to visit her. The psychic tells each of them - individually - the date that he or she will die, which is very disturbing information for a child, especially if that date predicts an early death. The novel then focuses one at a time on each of the kids, following his or her life until death. Youngest child Simon escapes to San Francisco while still in his teens, to seek a life of freedom and vibrancy. His next older sister, Klara, accompanies him to the West Coast, following her lifelong dream to become a professional magician. Oldest brother Daniel does his best to keep the world safe, as a doctor working for the Army, and Varya, who has always loved books, becomes a scientist, obsessed with the study of longevity.

It's an intriguing concept for a novel: following four characters who have been told when they will die. There is suspense as to whether the death prophecies will come true or not, as well as the fascinating question of how they live their lives with this knowledge. Obviously, this is not going to be a light, fun book, since you know from the start that each of the four sections ends with a main character dying. But I felt - as did other readers at Booktopia - that the author took a particularly dark approach with this story. It is a tragedy and also a family drama, highlighting the bonds of the siblings (even when they are far from each other). Although I would have preferred a slightly more positive, uplifting outlook, I liked the thought-provoking question at the heart of the novel: does knowing when you will die affect how you live?

343 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

P.S. Since I didn't get a chance to hear from the author or discuss the book much, I would love to hear what other readers thought of it! Let me know in the comments.

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. My review is my own opinion.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

You can order The Immortalists from Northshire Books (which hosted Booktopia):


Or order from The Immortalists from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. Would I want to know my death date? I'm torn! I think I'd sped the day trying to avoid death. Too bad this one was darker than it needed to be.

    1. The characters really became obsessed with their dates. I don't think I'd want to know after reading this!!

    2. Oh, and I forgot to mention in my review, there is also the question of whether these became self-fulfilling prophecies. In some cases, their behavior in knowing their death date led directly to their deaths...twisty thinking!