The Immortalists - by Chloe Benjamin

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“What are you looking for?” Varya asks.
“Your character. Ever heard of Heraclitus?” Varya shakes her head. “Greek philosopher. Character is fate – that’s what he said. They’re bound up, those two, like brothers and sisters. You wanna know the future?” She points at Varya with her free hand. “Look in the mirror.”

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a fictional novel that follows the lives of four siblings spanning multiple decades as they move around the United States and cope with the burden of knowing exactly the dates when they will die. The dates were foretold to them individually as children by a gypsy woman in New York and the knowledge and belief in her predictions continuously guides their decisions into adulthood. The question then becomes, did the gypsy really prophesize their deaths or did their deaths come about on those dates because they believed in her predictions and subconsciously engineered the events to come true?

There is a lot that I did like about this book. I found myself getting invested in the siblings’ lives. I did care about what might happen to them, especially the female siblings, Varya and Klara. They were interesting and the plot was engaging. The writing was comfortable to read and easy to follow. The format of the book reminded me of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but instead of essences of biblical stories, The Immortalists ties together a sort of pagan mysticism with Jewish culture in America. The plot also pulls the characters through a gauntlet of recent American history from the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the 80’s to the Iraq War to magic shows in Las Vegas.

However, there were a number of things that I did not enjoy about this book. This novel relies heavily on describing the characters' feelings all the time. They are constantly evaluating their past decisions and relationships in real-time. I found this very annoying. I don’t know of too many people who exercise that level of emotional mindfulness; I certainly don’t. It is also a case of telling instead of showing. The reader could figure what the characters are feeling by the dialogue and actions described. The author was very good at describing the characters’ body language. If you took out all the sentences related to emotions and self-assessment, this would be a much, much shorter book.

I found this book in the Passages Gift Shop on BC Ferries while traveling from Vancouver Island to the mainland of British Columbia. I was looking for something fictional to read while going on a fishing/camping holiday and this book did the trick.

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Joe Enns

Joe Enns Art is a website showing the oil paintings of Joe Enns, an Oil Painter and Fisheries Biologist located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. This website is dedicated to showing the beauty of the natural world, developing oil painting skills, as well as, fisheries and stream conservation and restoration.