A Tale of Four Golds: The Immortalists | 2018
"'What I heard,' said Daniel, 'is she can tell fortunes. What'll happen in your life -- whether you'll have a good one or a bad one. And there's something else.' He braced his hands in the door frame and leaned in. 'She can say when you'll die.' Klara looked up. 'That's ridiculous,' said Varya. 'Nobody can say that.' 'And what if they could?' asked Daniel. 'Then I wouldn't want to know.'"
-The Immortalists, pg. 4
The Sum of It:
One day in 1969, the four Gold children sneak out of their New York City apartment to ask a fortune teller the date of their death. Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon speak individually with said fortune teller, and, presumably, find the information they were seeking. The encounter leaves the children shaken, and at varying levels of willingness to admit to the woman's validity. Thus the tale of the Gold children is born, as we the reader are taken through their lives, one child at a time, learning about the choices they made with the time they had, and how they decided to let the fortune teller's information influence their destiny.
The result is a well-woven story spanning decades and industries. We learn about San Francisco in the 1980s. We learn about ballet and the arts, and also about the AIDS epidemic and its devastation. We learn about the mysteries of magicians and the dedication and tireless creativity it takes for those who choose it as a career path. We learn about the military and medical professionals who work with those who serve in the armed forces. We learn about medical research and toll that long-term studies can take on their administrators. We learn about heartbreak and the longevity of its effects. We learn about the traditions of the Jewish faith. We learn about living in fear, and about breaking away from the life you thought you had to live. We learn about The Immortalist, and the poignancy of the book's title.
The B & C Treatment:
I have followed The Immortalists author, Chloe Benjamin, on Instagram for a while, and although I had seen her (and many others!) advertising for this book for a long time, I admit I was still unsure of what it was about until I had my pre-ordered copy in my hands. I devoured this book in a way I haven't in a long time. The structure of it makes you feel as though you are reading four short novels within a novel, and yet there is a strong connection between the lives of each Gold sibling so you're left desperate to move on to the next section.
I loved the variety in subject matter in this book. Chloe Benjamin has done a terrific job of making each "world" we visit in The Immortalists come alive and feel so vibrant. That being said, there were sections I enjoyed more than others, and part of my frenzied, staying-up-way-too-late reading consumption of this book comes from its strong first half. However, in the end I was not disappointed by its conclusion, and believe The Immortalists is worthy of the praise it has received. It left me feeling thoughtful about the dreams I'm pursuing in my own life, and thankful for the special people I have in my life who support me through them.
You may like The Immortalists if you like:
- Family sagas, a la The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, Crooked House by Agatha Christie, or Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.
- Stories about choosing your own destiny a la Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach or A Reunion of Ghosts, by Judith Claire Mitchell.