Benjamin has an extraordinary ability to write about family tensions, the cracks over which you cannot safely step, the unwilled love that keeps people close despite all the fissures ... The Immortalists boasts some dramatic twists and turns but these in truth are unnecessary. Benjamin is a gifted writer, a creator of quiet asides and haunting images who mines a seam of sad wisdom.
Benjamin slips into each of the characters’ heads and lets us live there for a while, writing in a delicate third-person voice that knows everyone’s secrets. There are moments as taut as a thriller, where time disappears as you turn pages; and passages of quiet compassion, as the characters reflect on the bonds of siblinghood, on the idea of home, on how those we have lost can still manage — miraculously and mysteriously — to stay with us, in ways that we can’t always explain. Its ending is unexpectedly emotional, as a wise secondary character comes to realize that 'magic is only one tool among many for keeping one another alive.'”
Some novels are portraits, some are page-turning puzzles. Still others are meditations on the mysteries of life. The Immortalists, a family story with a twist, is a bit of all of those. The tale of four siblings marked in childhood by a terrible prophecy, it careers through time and tragedy with the reader in tow, as deft and dizzying as a high-wire act ... Juggling so many pieces has its risks. The rapid-fire plot at times feels rushed and contrived. The portrayal of the AIDS epidemic is predictable, while some of the other developments seem wildly improbable. Yet, as the novel deepens, the reader is beguiled with unexpected twists and stylish, crisp prose. In a novel centred on magic and mystery, Ms Benjamin uses misdirection to frustrate as well as entertain ... Unwittingly, this ambitious, unorthodox tale may change you too.
To describe Chloe Benjamin's second novel, The Immortalists, as a story about the evolution of a family would be true, but wholly insignificant for the breadth and depth of this amazing work of fiction … Benjamin unfurls a dense, yet beautifully spun and satisfying tale that spans 50 years and goes from New York to San Francisco and back. The children grow up and grow old; they find love and suffer loss; and, throughout the years, they live with the knowledge — true or not — of when they'll die … The Immortalists is a can't-put-down, makes-you-think tale of a not-so-average American family.
In the prologue, four young siblings in New York City scrape together their money to see a fortune teller who reveals each child’s eventual death-date. That spooks the kids, of course, but the only real magic here is Benjamin’s storytelling. What follows is a poignant quartet of linked novellas: one for each sibling as an adult. Despite the novel’s whimsical opening, this is largely a story of sadness and smothered hope.
On offer in The Immortalists is the kind of in-depth research, period and otherwise, which can occasionally turn to sludge...But the writing mostly flows easily ... The reader will likely be thoroughly taken by the world of the Gold siblings, in all its shades of brilliant color. It's not a totally comfortable realm, since we know all too well how this tale's going to end, but getting there is lovely.
To describe Chloe Benjamin's second novel, The Immortalists, as a story about the evolution of a family would be true, but wholly insignificant for the breadth and depth of this amazing work of fiction ... Benjamin unfurls a dense, yet beautifully spun and satisfying tale that spans 50 years and goes from New York to San Francisco and back ... Begin 2018 with the book that could easily retain the year's top spot, The Immortalists is a can't-put-down, makes-you-think tale of a not-so-average American family.
The novel garners the doomy sonority of Greek tragedy, even though the various parts are uneven ... But The Immortalists remains a boundlessly moving inquisition into mortality, grief and passion ... it conjures characters with such dimension that you mourn them too, a magic rare enough to leave one astonished.
Simon and Klara are Benjamin’s more complex characters, and she casts a spell with the first half of her affecting family saga. Dull Daniel and anxious Varya, as involved as they are in matters of choice and chance, still can’t compete with their younger siblings’ candle-flame lives. That Daniel evaluates soldiers’ fitness for overseas combat seems contrived. Varya’s relationship with the monkey Freya is just plain sad. But then — as fate would have it — Benjamin plays a wild card. Aha! There’s more, but life should hold surprises.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds, which probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next.
...[an] excellent novel ... Benjamin wisely resists telling the reader whether the shape each life takes is destiny or not. Billed as in the vein of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings — high praise and apt comparisons — The Immortalists also reminded me strongly of Karen Joy Fowler’s award-winning 2013 dissection of the mysterious and complicated family bonds, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Like Fowler, Benjamin has mastered the sibling’s tension between intimacy and baffling unknowability.
Given that this is a book about four people who know the dates of their death, it would be easy to say that this is a book about how to live. In fact, it’s already been said. But The Immortalists is much more than that. Benjamin’s writing is sumptuous. Fearlessly, she gets into the minds of these people in ways that are truly astounding, and she gets into their hearts even more deeply, uncovering both what makes them tick as well as why they tick the way they do.
he Immortalists is a page turner, as addictive as it is emotionally searing ... The Immortalists is a beautiful exploration of a family in crisis and in joy. The novel delves into questions of destiny, mortality and what, in life, really matters–how would you live if you knew when you were going to die? ... There were aspects of the storyline that weren’t as strong, and oftentimes bordered on offensive, like the story’s treatment of Romani ... Even with those questions, I found this book captivating, moving and addictive. It makes you think, feel, fall in love, and question how to best live your days left on earth.
...thoughtful if uneven ... The Immortalists suffers from predictability. Readers will easily figure out the fate of many of the Golds. And the novel has too many secondary characters and too much unnecessary backstory. Yet it is still a provocative take on the age-old question of what constitutes a good life.
While flawed, Benjamin’s tale is propulsive and colorful, capturing moving truths about the way we handle the knowledge that we all eventually die ... Benjamin does a credible job of conjuring the Gold family, and their ties to each other. Their deaths, one by one, land hard ... This is not to say the book has no flaws. Daniel’s tale fails to capture the vivacity of Simon’s, Klara’s and Varya’s stories ... These flaws, however, are overshadowed by the power of the rest of the novel and especially by its moving last section.
At her clumsiest, Benjamin integrates these details into the novel dutifully, like a student showing off her research: I did my reading, she almost seems to say; I can give you footnotes. But at her best, she succeeds in infusing her scenes with a kind of worn-in depth that keeps the reader grounded and aware of they are as Benjamin hurtles us from 1969 to the present. Benjamin keeps an elegant ambiguity working throughout the whole thing. It’s never entirely clear that the fortune teller who spoke to the Gold siblings told the truth.
So much of the book’s plot follows from that portentous set-up by necessity that its progress can feel dutiful, almost programmatic ... But she equates ritual, magic, fiction and faith...The result is diffuse; by trying to tackle all these ideas at once, the book’s gestures are sweeping but shallow ... The Immortalists bears marks of obsessive manicuring. The novel self-consciously tries to deliver essential truths about life without outright saying them, but it doesn’t quite let its readers do the open-ended work of piecing those truths together — betraying, perhaps, a mind that hasn’t fully embraced uncertainty itself.
This narrative nugget could break in any number of directions. Benjamin treats it with profound, heart-tugging respect, and gives us a novel crafted with a resonant sensitivity to the lifelong complexities of family relationships ... In the siblings’ tales, author Benjamin shines a subtle light on the bonds of kinship and familial love, counter-balanced by the freedom, or willingness, to choose one’s own path. The Immortalists is a rich and rewarding novel, sure to rank among the very best of 2018’s crop, and one to be re-read and savored for years to come.
...an imaginative and satisfying family saga ... The author has written a cleverly structured novel steeped in Jewish lore and the history of four decades of American life. The four Gold siblings are wonderful creations, and in Benjamin’s expert hands their story becomes a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal.
...the siblings are an unhappy bunch, saddled not only with this unwelcome knowledge of the future but with alcoholism, depression, OCD, possible bipolar disease, and many regrets; misunderstandings and grudges divide them from each other. Various minor characters—a cop; spouses, lovers, and offspring; the fortuneteller herself—weave through the plot in a contrived way. Benjamin’s premise situates her novel in magical territory, but the spell doesn't quite work.
...[a] bewitching and provocative novel ... Aligned in her artistic command, imagination, and deep curiosity about the human condition with Nicole Krauss, Dara Horn, and Stacey D’Erasmo, Benjamin asks what we want out of life. Duration? Success? Meaning? Who do we live for? Do our genes determine our path? How does trauma alter us? Benjamin has created mesmerizing characters and richly suspenseful predicaments in this profound and glimmering novel of death’s ever-shocking inevitability and life’s wondrously persistent whirl of chance and destiny.