Words

The Immortalists

A date with death

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It’s halfway through a humid summer in 1969 on New York City’s Lower East Side, and the four Gold siblings are restless. There is no air-conditioning in the house, and life seems to be happening to everyone else but them. Kids are getting wasted at Woodstock, there is rioting outside the Stonewall Inn, people are even walking on the moon.

Daniel has heard that a rishika, a fortune-teller, recently moved into the neighborhood. Rumor has it that rather than foretelling what will happen in your life, her particular skill is naming the exact date of your death. The siblings find her apartment and she takes them in one at a time, making each promise never to speak a word to anyone about the date she shared.

Thus begins Chloe Benjamin’s family saga, The Immortalists, which follows Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya through five decades observing how the date shared by the rishika shapes their lives. Some of the dates are far in the future, some tragically close. It is what the siblings do with this knowledge that makes this such a compelling story.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? Benjamin ably takes on the question of fate or free will, showing that such knowledge can be a double-edged sword. Do the siblings make decisions because of the prophecy? Are the shortest lives the ones lived most fully? Benjamin dedicates a section of the book to each, delving into each personality to explore how these questions of destiny play out.

Simon, the youngest, follows his sister Klara to San Francisco where, at 16, he commits himself to living an authentic existence as a young gay man. It is the early ’80s in the Castro District; people still mourn Harvey Milk’s assassination and the AIDS crisis is devastating the community. Simon gets a job dancing at a club, which eventually leads him to the Ballet Academy, where he becomes a featured performer and finds love with a fellow dancer.

Meanwhile, Klara hones her magic show and tries to make her way in a white, male-dominated profession where women are usually mere props. Idealistic Klara wants her magic to remind people of the mystery inherent in the world; practical Klara uses sleight-of-hand skills to pad her wallet through pickpocketing when money gets thin between shows. Her success eventually leads her to Las Vegas, where she is booked as the opening act for Siegfried & Roy.

The older siblings, Daniel and Varya, are more staid than Klara and Simon. Daniel becomes an Army doctor during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and stays closer to home and the Judaism of his youth. Varya, the eldest, is anxious, fixated on control, and takes an evidence-based approach to truth that leads her to scientific study. Ironically, determined to outsmart death, her life’s research is a longevity study with primates.

How many of these life choices were made because of the date lodged in their consciousness by the fortune-teller? Benjamin’s novel certainly reminds the reader of the power of thoughts to shape reality, and begs the question, so poignantly asked by poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Lisa Gresham is the Collection Support Manager for Whatcom County Library System.

Smoking Crow
More Words...
Fear and Love
Not your average memoir

With the recent news that Saudi Arabia will soon be offering tourist visas, the publication of Adam Valen Levinson’s new memoir/travelogue, The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East, is perfectly timed. More than an account of his travels, the book describes both…

more »
Word Up
The power of poetry

Those who prefer candy over creative wordplay will be out of luck when they plunk a quarter into a new contraption located at Fairhaven’s Village Books.

Instead of something sweet to chew on, people contributing their 25 cents to the Poetry Gumball Machine will instead spin a wheel to…

more »
Shrill
Lindy West is living out loud

The word “shrill,” evocative and onomatopoetic, conjures high-pitched, grating voices. It’s used derogatorily, and it’s often aimed at women.

Author Lindy West re-appropriates it in her book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a memoir that’s as funny as it is poignant. West is a…

more »
Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

The Lewis & Clark Expedition

10:00am|Mount Baker Theatre

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Canadian Exploration

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Mexican Kitchen

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Get Gritty

7:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Misty Flowers

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Ship of Fools Closing Reception

5:00pm|Cooper Lanza Gallery

Inspire Higher Dreams Gala

5:30pm|Silver Reef Event Center

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Wilderness and Wellness

7:00pm|Village Books

Cantabile Chamber Choir

7:30pm

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall

The Kid

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web Village Books
Saturday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Free Appliance Pick-up

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

10:00am|Throughout Bellingham

Mt. Baker Plant Sale

3:00pm|Mt. Baker High School

9 to 5, the Musical

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall

Cantabile Chamber Choir

7:30pm

Legends and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall Post #154

Have a Heart Run

9:00am|Edgewater Park

Senior Center Plant Sale

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Hydrangeas 101

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Linuxfest Northwest

9:00am|Bellingham Technical College

Everson Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Everson-Goshen Rd.

Independent Bookstore Day

9:00am|Village Books

Backyard Habitat and Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Vaisaikhi Day Celebration

10:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Sudden Valley Garden Club Sale

10:00am|Sudden Valley Dance Barn

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Sculpture Tours

10:30am|Big Rock Garden Park

Growing Dry Beans and Grains

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Panel discusses oil sands pipeline

3:00pm

Klee Wyck Journal

4:00pm|Village Books

Visions of the Soul Opening

5:00pm|Forum Arts

Spring Has Sprung Opening Party

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Naomi Shihab Nye

7:00pm|Performing Arts Center

Moon Walk

7:00pm|Whatcom County

Contra Dance with Incognito

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Dylan Foley and Eamon O'Leary

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Skagit Symphony Classics Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Paula Poundstone

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books