It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
The Immortalists falls into the category of reads where I find myself questioning whether I liked the read or not. The only way to sort out the answer is with a list of likes and dislikes.
I like the premise of this read, the idea of the power of suggestion and how it impacts a person throughout his or her life. In this instance, four children, at far too young an age, were told by a gypsy woman the dates of each of their respective deaths which in turn wreaks havoc on their lives from that moment forward. As the children grow into adults, each tries, without much success to forge a path, a life out from under the shadow of a death date.
Unfortunately, the promise of the premise utterly fell apart as the story unfolded. From the moment the children discover their respective death dates, each travel along a collision course headlong toward what becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For a time, each of the four siblings find a small measure of happiness – Simon in his dancing and relationship, Klara in her daughter, Daniel in his ability to help others, and Varya in her work – but, it isn’t enough, in the end, to sustain any of them.
The book is broken into four sections, one for each of the siblings and each is sadder, more pathetic than the last. Simon is very much a product of his time and place, Klara is a product of undiagnosed/untreated mental illness, Daniel is a victim of his own obsession, and Varya, well, I’m still not sure what went sideways with her. Ultimately, each of siblings feels helpless in the face of a death sentence and rather than fight, they give in to what they each clearly see as the inevitable. This giving up, the sense of doom and inevitability is the root of my displeasure with this book. None of these siblings ever reached out to anyone for help, sought to help one another, and no one in their lives, apparently, cared enough to encourage them to seek help. Furthermore, each sibling is so caught up in his or her own life and BS, weighed down by old hurts and betrayals, they can’t see a life beyond what they feel is a fixed moment in time. To this end, each, even when in a relationship, becomes so isolated as to become quite hopeless. From page one, it is clear this read there is going to be nothing but waste, waste of talents and more importantly, a waste of lives.
The Bottom Line: The Immortalists is one of those reads I fully expected to like and found very much lacking in the end. In the end, I was very much disappointed by the characters in this book, literally every one of them. All the siblings, all four of them had every opportunity to help themselves and one another yet, none of them took such steps and/or measures. In large part, I stuck with this book because I kept hoping someone would finally pull their head and do the right thing. Though one of the siblings does end up living, it isn’t much of a life and it’s filled with the guilt of knowing how little help was offered and/or given to her siblings. In the end, I found this book tragic in the worst sense possible as well as frustrating beyond belief.