Top Shelf: ‘The Immortalists’ by Chloe Benjamin

Every month, we choose a new book to really get behind and display on our metaphorical Top Shelf. Our hope is that you’ll read this title and encourage others to do the same, creating a sort of ripple effect. Join us on our mission to build a community bound by books!

immortalists

Simon. Klara. Daniel. Varya. The Gold siblings couldn’t have been more different. Simon, the youngest and a dancer, was impulsive, insatiably hungry for life, tremendously feeling, and more than a little selfish. Klara, the magician, had her head in the clouds and her feet on the stage, with a constant drive to go, to keep moving, but never with an idea of where she mind end up. Daniel, the medical doctor, was loyal, pragmatic, and found his comfort in the logic of the real. Varya, the eldest and an imminent research scientist, approached life with precision and caution, hardly allowing herself to stick a toe into life’s joys and pains, much less dive right in. But though their approaches to life couldn’t have varied further, the four did share one thing in common: They each knew the day they were going to die.

When Daniel hears of a gypsy with a knack for predicting such things, he convinces his three siblings to traipse through downtown New York City to meet her and glean the knowledge she promises. As the woman’s predictions bear out, each of the siblings is forced to consider the role the knowledge played in the choices they made and the lives they lived. Did the information prompt them down their eventual paths? Or would they have traveled those paths regardless? In The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin offers a fascinating premise that comes loaded with resonant themes and questions about fate, free will, and powers greater than ourselves.

Benjamin is a marvelous storyteller with a tremendous sense of character, place, and pacing, making this one of those ‘oh man, where’d the time go’ sort of reads. She allows the reader to grow close to each of the characters by breaking the story up into four parts — one for each sibling — told in order of death. Death often feels like an abstraction too big and unknown to fully consider, and the first half of the book grapples with what happens when something so ordered and unmoving as a date on a calendar faces off with this greatest of mysteries; death transforms from unknown to concrete fact. For those who die younger in the story, we can feel how the fast-approach of this fact chases them into action, though the way this manifests is beautifully unique to them. As we transition into the latter half, however, something kind of wonderful starts to happen. The abstraction and fear of death recedes and in its place comes the very real knocking of loss, which yes, sounds sad (and it is!) but as the survivors face up to the guilt, anxiety, and grief the losses have wrought, each brave step they make back towards life serves as a tribute to the ones they so dearly miss.

As much as the book concerns itself with matters of life and death, it’s equally preoccupied with the complications, mistakes, and massive amounts of love that come with the relationships within families, particularly between siblings. Though the relationships between the members of the Gold family weren’t always — or even often — smooth or close, we get the chance to see how intertwined their lives were, how the facts of one life inform another, how great pain alerts to the presence of great love, and how, though death is inevitable, life won’t be ignored.

This is a bold, emotionally-resonant story full of characters so real you could pass them on the street and maybe, just maybe, by reading about them and thinking about our own loved ones, we can grant them a bit of immortality.

— Molly M., Inventory Manager 

3 thoughts on “Top Shelf: ‘The Immortalists’ by Chloe Benjamin

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