The writing is consistently tremendous. The content? … well, I don’t know. It belies a young person writing literature after having learned of the world mainly from headlines. The characters are the biggest problem and Benjamin’s bizarre immaturity the other.
The story idea is great even if the setting is rather Hollywood and shallow. Four children of various ages — the oldest 13 — are told the date of their deaths. What happens next? Each character gets their own section and their own years.
With four characters it’s hard enough to love all of them but I loved only one – Klara and by extension her daughter and Raj. The rest were, to use a word that reviewers have used a lot with this book, underwhelming. Pathetic even, really.
Varya, I couldn’t stand even though I felt sorry for her being introduced as a sexualised girl at 13 and maybe that was meant to mirror her sexless life later — she was ultimately stunted at the original visit — but I can’t help but think that Benjamin herself probably thinks more like a man in order to see this girl with her ‘palm-sized breasts’ at this age. It’s a horrendous description to add to such a young person because you are left with the image of someone’s hands on this little girl. It was an exploitative beginning, manipulative even. I can’t tell if it was deliberate, though.
There’s no life-changing hero’s narrative in this story except for those who get their life lessons from Hollywood and scripted TV.
There’s also an odd sense of balancing events in the background occasionally. We hear about the British Mandate being lifted off of Israel, which is a recurring motif about having somewhere to call ‘home’ but we never hear about the Palestinians, the many UN resolutions against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and of the daily torture and killings of the Palestinian people. Their home is destroyed so someone else gets to have one. The only criticism of Israel that is presented in the book is the support of Iraq and that it’s now a satellite of the US and incredibly powerful. The latter can be dismissed, the former was never brought up and could not be dismissed.
This idea could have been amazing. What a shame.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin was published January 9, 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons