“It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”
Would you want to know the day that you died? The Gold children decide to take a risk and visit a Gypsy who is known to foretell a person’s death date. They are given various days, from the very young to the elderly. After reading The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, I can say that I wouldn’t want to know.
Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya all take their fortune and deal with it in different ways. Simon and Klara decide to live life THEIR way. Daniel and Varya play it safe. The fear and skepticism of their impending deaths taint their lives. Simon decides life is too short to deny his homosexuality, he can’t stand the thought of living life in the shadow of his parents and their desire for him to take over the family business. He flees to San Francisco, one of the only places he can truly feel free, with Klara. Klara has believed and adored magic since she was young and spends her life building a legacy as a magician for herself and her future family.
“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 to convert them. The trick is to get them to admit it.“
Klara and Simon both resort to relationships and alcohol to distract themselves from the doom hanging over them. Daniel and Varya go to school and interchangeably take care of their mother. They outwardly deny their prophecies, while inwardly quaking. Daniel marries, but is always thinking of his role in taking his siblings to see the Gypsy. He grapples with his religion and doubts the existence of a higher power.
“The truth is that most people enjoy a certain level of impotence. But I think we do have control—so much that it scares us to death. As a species, God might be the greatest gift we’ve ever given ourselves. The gift of sanity.“
Daniel focuses on his work as a doctor for the military, and when he is put on leave, starts obsessing about the fortune teller and how she ruined their lives. Varya spends years advancing human longevity treatments, protects herself from illness or germs at all costs, and fears living her life or connecting with another human being.
“The cost of loneliness is high, she knows, but the cost of loss is higher.“
So here’s the thing… I GET why the reviews are all over the place. It’s a depressing book. You get to know the characters, and yeah, a lot of them die. They’re not handed a bunch of happy endings. But I personally really enjoyed it. The writing was poignant and engaging. I wanted to return to it and I easily read it within a day. The Gold children suffer serious mental affections because of the knowledge of their foretold deaths, and some of them are never able to move forward. Some of them are so worried about doing all they can in their rushed lives, that they hurt others. They hurt themselves. Some of them do as little outside of their comfort zone as they can, not wanting to upset any balance. They ALL develop mental illnesses to a degree. Bipolar, depression, OCD, extreme paranoia, Msyophobia.
But damn… isn’t that realistic? If I knew the day of my death, I’d be worrying about vacations I never took, books I never read, financial stability for my family, whether I could cheat death, if I could make myself healthier, the things I hadn’t accomplished. There would be a million things stopping me from enjoying life. Better to not know. I believe in living life like I could die, IN THEORY: going to the nice restaurants, taking my son to all the wacky events that kids love, going on multiple vacations a year, reading 100 books a year, etc…. but those work because you’re enjoying them and not racing towards them in fear for your life.
“The point is that you have to live a lesser life in order to live a longer one. Don’t you see that? The point is that you’re willing to make that bargain, you have made that bargain, but to what end? At what cost?“
I think this is a good book because it makes us uncomfortable. For me, I would rate it 4 stars. The reason it isn’t perfect for me is because while I enjoyed the setup, which was one POV at a time (until that character’s death), I didn’t enjoy how the storyline bounced around WITHIN that POV. I don’t think it added anything to not stay linear within each person’s story, it just adds confusion to bounce back and forth from past to future. In some of the POVs, it did this much too often to make it smooth reading. But personally, if you’re on the fence about this one, I say pick it up.
“She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying.“