First of all, let me express how much I enjoyed this novel! (Immensely, hello!) Not only is it a well-crafted story that highlights the relationship between four siblings as children in 1969, but follows those siblings throughout important life decisions that are made in the wake of the prophecy they each receive from a fortune teller.
From Google Books:
“It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.
Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.”
The most important element of this novel, for me, is reflection; the time I spent considering the weight of words and how we, as people, often allow ourselves to be influenced by the ideas of outside sources. Did the Gold children make the choices they made based on the fortune teller’s words? Had they never gone to see the Romani woman, would their lives have been significantly different? If the same prophecy had been told by anyone else—say, a family member—would the children have allowed those words to hang about them as a shroud, a force that seemed to dictate what they were destined to do in life.
***SPOILER WARNING: If you do not want elements of the novel to be spoiled, do not read further.***
Let’s take Simon’s predicament, for example. The fortune teller revealed his date of death to be the youngest of all the Gold children (although they didn’t realize it at the time.) The story follows him as he runs away from home to be with his sister, Klara, a decision that was fueled by the knowledge of when he was proposed to die. In his present home-state, Simon would’ve been destined to be the caretaker for their mother, a difficult woman who had not been in the same spirits since losing her husband (the children’s father). Not wanting to resign himself to that fate, he decides to stow away with Klara and take his life into his own hands, the desire to actually live his life stronger than the desire to “stay safe” from it. His choices from this point are rash and immediate, fueled by desire and passion, a kind of fiercely-burning flame of need kindling his every move. He pushes himself outside of his self-imposed boundaries and feels “free,” whole at the same time feeling trapped by the imminent date.
The question is, for Simon as well as all the Gold children, had he not learned of the prophecy—his date of death—at such a young age (or even at all), would his choices have been different? Would he have stayed behind as Klara left to pursue her dreams? If he had stayed behind, would his date of death still remained the same? Did his impulsive choices shorten his life so that he was resigned to his death date when it came and he simply let himself be taken by the prophecy? Would he have been more careful if it weren’t for the knowledge he carried?
There are so many questions that The Immortalists tosses into the air, that it’s nearly impossible to catch them all. It’s intriguing to me to think on the possibilities, although there can be no definitive answer. As with the age-old question of morality that one studies in philosophy, or the idea of inherent evil…there can be no real answer except that we will never know. Could haves and should haves can’t apply here, because what is done is done, but it is impossible not to question the possibility that the outcome could have been very different.
And if we believe that the outcome could have been different without the knowledge of the date-of-death, then we must also believe that words hold more power over us than we may want to believe, and that perhaps we should be a little kinder to ourselves and others. You never know how words will affect a person.
What are your thoughts on Simon and the Gold children's direction in life? Do you think their fortune played an immense role in their rash decisions and ultimate outcome? Or do you think that the fortunes would've proven to remain true even if the children had not learned of their dates of death that day?
A wonderful read and highly recommended, The Immortalists belongs on all TBRs and bookshelves!
If you’re interested in experiencing The Immortalists the Apostrophe Box way, head over to our SHOP.
Don’t forget to check out the discussions of [The Collapsing Empire] and [Strange Weather].
Until next time--