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.'”
...[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.
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.
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.
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.
...[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.
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.
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.
...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.
...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.