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Varied leaves on the family tree

Cover of The Immortalists
A review of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Author Chloe Benjamin read from her new book The Immortalists to a packed house at the first Wisconsin Book Festival event of 2018. It was a cold night but spirits were high at Cooper's Tavern as the author shared the news that her book was about to debut on The New York Times bestsellers list. Now Benjamin has been named the featured author at this year’s Book Club Café. Stay tuned for more details about that big event!

The Immortalists starts out on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1969 and follows the four Gold children after they visit a fortune teller known for telling people the date of their death. The book follows each child as they live their lives in different parts of the country in different eras and explores the degree to which we shape our own destinies.

I believe that the Gold children were influenced by the fortune teller and having that information shaped their lives in a way that they couldn't necessarily control. It's easier for some of the siblings to believe they have no control and that their lives are a wild ride. This is true for many people without any sort of death prediction. On the other hand, some of the siblings try to micromanage their lives to the point of mental breakdown and that's not healthy, either.

The novel takes place in a variety of settings --- 1960s New York City, the 1970s San Francisco dance scene, and glitzy 1980s Las Vegas. The different settings affect how the siblings behave and how they expect to live their lives. The kids are accountable to their mother in New York City and I think that's why they all moved away - so that no one would question their behavior or choices. The second youngest of the siblings, Klara Gold, finds her way to Las Vegas and the world of magic after the death of her brother Simon in San Francisco. Klara hones her illusions and tricks while in San Francisco but needs to move on to a bigger market. Imagine what it would be like to be a young female magician headlining in Vegas when the strip was just starting to explode with resorts and tower hotels. It's overwhelming! That setting is my favorite but also the saddest. 

Narrated by the four siblings in separate sections, I loved following each through their stories and appreciated the natural pairing that happened with some of the siblings. I was never ready to say goodbye to any of the siblings, but I certainly identified the most with the oldest girl, Varya, a careful and bookish researcher. In some ways, I wish that I was more like Klara, though, all of the Golds behave in ways that I would like to think I wouldn't.

At its heart, this novel is a family story, exploring both past and future generations of the Gold family. This is something we can all relate to. Your family forms you and you never leave that behind, no matter how hard you try. Ancestors and family history keep cropping up throughout the novel and it makes me think you can't ever really escape your fate. Maybe the fortune teller wasn't that far off. She might have been reading the characters of the kids and predicting the date of their death was just a coincidence. But the bottom line for me is that I would definitely not want that information. No way. Not ever. 

Would you?

April 2, 2018