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review 2018-08-30 09:42
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

I really enjoyed this one, probably one my favorite reads this year. Four siblings in 1969 New York go see a fortune teller who tells each of them separately the dates of their deaths, and the prophecies affect how each of them live their lives from that moment on. The book is divided into four parts covering each of the siblings' lives, and every section, extensively researched to provide a vivid background, gave me things to think about and relate to and as a whole kept me interested. I liked the writing too, although there tends to be a lot of telling when it comes to the philosophical parts on issues such as fate vs. free will, being bold but reckless vs. being careful but restrictive. It's a gripping, memorable, complex piece of literary fiction with numerous thought-provoking points for discussion, including but not limited to family, faith, destiny, death and life itself.

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review 2018-05-21 22:33
THE IMMORTALISTS by CHLOE BENJAMIN
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

Audiobook

I kept putting off requesting this book because I stopped reading family sagas in the early 1980s. But I kept reading the blurb over and over and finally thought why not. This book was so good! It's about 4 brothers and sisters and their life from an encounter with a psychic until their death. I liked that it didn't jump around between them but had four parts for each person. The family itself was so sad. All of the stuff they did or should have done, I just wanted to grab the fictional person by the shoulders and tell them that they matter. I loved the ending. I would definitely recommend this book.

Maggie Hoffman did a great job with the narration - both the men and women, young and old.

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review 2018-04-23 18:23
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

This one was entirely different than I'd imagined it would be, and that was fine. I like to be surprised. What was slightly lacking for me was why the Romani fortune teller had such an effect on these four kids. They were raised steeped in Judaism, at least by their father. They were first generation Americans, children of the Holocaust. They were intellectuals, despite the fact that the family had a background in magic. I couldn't get my head around why they were all so sure one visit with a fortune teller had power over them or why she would have knowledge about them. Whether it was real magic or not was never really examined.

 

As kids the characters were likable but as adults they were sorely lacking, and I can't just believe it's because of a prediction from childhood without a reason to suddenly believe in Romani fortune telling. I never got the reason, so while it was interesting and an OK read, it just didn't get over the top ever, nor did it dip low. It was an steady read that lovers of historical fiction (from very recent history) and family sagas will probably like. There were moments where I thought the Kabbalah (sp?) or Jewish mysticism would play more solidly into the plot, where medicine and science would prevail, where family ties might win out, but instead it was all about a date and death. I suppose the lesson, if we go with Simon, if we must have a lesson (I go looking for lessons when the story leaves me questioning I'm learning), is live life to the fullest while we can.

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review 2018-04-06 00:00
The Immortalists
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin I did enjoy this book. I found the stories of Simon and Klara heartbreaking and very real. I recall that time when AIDS first revealed itself. Simon's story is an interesting study on that time and the many factors involved in its emergence. However we never loose sight of the personal in this story, that it is Simon's story.

You don't really get much of an idea about the interconnectedness of the siblings in the beginning, but it does emerge as the story connects. With Klara's story you get a much richer understanding of the nature of the relationship between Klara, Simon and their father Saul. When Daniel and Varya's stories are broached you get a much better idea of the trajectory of the family's relationships.

Each of the siblings has their own issues with connection; Simon's with feeling safe enough in his difference to express affection; Klara's with believing in the magic of everyday life which holds those we love and have loved close to us; Daniel's with relinquishing control and allowing life to evolve as he would choose it to and Varya's is embracing the meatiness and corporeal nature of our bonds with our nearest and dearest, not trying to rationalise and think them through.

The book very cleverly asks some questions about agency, choice and fate. The fortune teller is the vehicle for this questioning. She is quite a contradictory figure. Is she responsible for their fates? Is she bad? Is she a victim herself? Is she simply at the whim of her 'gift'? These are interesting questions when considered in line with other questions I asked myself while reading this book. Should we live everyday as if it's our last, knowing that our death may be just around the corner? Or should we live disregarding death, embracing only life, putting death to the side, assuming it to be way down the road? Even though the Gold children were probably too young to hear the news the fortune teller told them, they didn't stay children. So where was their adult agency, sense of reason and emotional nous in their later years? Or is their reaction to this sort of news completely normal and understandable, even if you don't believe in fortune tellers?

I think the weakest part of the story was the FBI character. Klara was enchanting enough without him. I would like to see less of him and more of Klara's magic. I still think that having the fortune teller investigated for fraud was clever, and there is a way to have Daniel's story evolve as it did, without the investigator's obsession with Klara. This thread through the story seemed implausible and unnecessary; without it, I would have given the book five stars.

But that aside it is still a great book which will get you thinking and asking the big questions.
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review 2018-02-22 21:57
How would you live your life if you knew when you were going to die?
The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, author; Maggie Hoffman, narrator
When the book begins, in 1969, the Gold children decide to visit a fortune teller named Bruna Costello, a Romani gypsy who could tell those who consulted her the date of their deaths. At the time, Varya was 13, Daniel was 11, Klara was 9 and Simon was 7. The lives of the four would be forever impacted by this knowledge and experience. Three were told they would die young, while the fourth would live deep into her eighties. Each of the siblings pretended that the knowledge was ridiculous, when confronted, but as they grew up, they began to think more and more about their impending demise, and they made decisions based on that knowledge, thinking it just might be true. Would their choices propel them in the direction of their deaths, or would they die at the predicted time, regardless?
The book covers almost half a century as it travels down the lives of each of the children, ending with the explanation of Varya’s ongoing life in 2010. The characters are well developed with all of the idiosyncrasies “that flesh is heir to”. Each of them suffered from some disability or deviance which caused a problem during the time in which they grew up. Simon was gay, Varya had OCD, Daniel was overly regimented and organized, and Klara saw the world as her play gym. Their mother was portrayed as a typically complaining, stereotypical Jewish mother who instilled guilt at every opportunity. The father, a tailor, was the more stable, emotionally, and the more accepting of the pair. Both had suffered a huge loss of family members during the Holocaust and were grateful for being in America.
As the three generations of Golds were explored, through their relationships or lack thereof, some of the major issues of the times were also introduced through them. With the parents it was the Holocaust, with the children it was homosexuality and civil rights, with the grandchildren it was environmental issues and women’s rights. The book introduced racism and anti-Semitism, mental illness and environmental issues with animal cruelty taking the center stage. The Castro in San Francisco, which was a well known gay area, coupled with the murder of Harvey Milk, became almost a character in the book as homosexuality was explored in great detail. Because of several interracial couplings, the issues of racism and civil rights were also featured. Mental illness and anti-Semitism were far less developed, but family dynamics was explored fairly well. Overall, did the idea of their deaths hanging over them affect the choices they made, bringing about a self-fulfilling prophecy, or did everything simply go according to plan.
I was not that pleased with the portrayal of the Jewish family and was not quite sure why a Jewish family was chosen to display so many negative aspects of life, unless it was simply because it began on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which was largely populated by Jews at one time, mostly early in the first half of the century. Each of the characters introduced seemed to be selfish and was negatively described until almost the end when some redeeming features were reviewed. Some of the more negative characteristics were selfishness, alcohol consumption, suicide, murder, mental illness, single motherhood, sexual deviance, racism, coldness, a lack of compassion, abortion, and generally cruel or nasty behavior toward one another, making sure to point out their faults rather than their positive qualities, discouraging their efforts rather than praising them.
In some ways I feel as if the publishing industry is pushing the agenda of the far left in most of the books chosen recently, and I found the issues somewhat contrived.

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