So you’re discussing The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, and you’re looking for book club questions to get the conversation started? You’ve come to the right place with these The Immortalists book club questions and reading guide.
The Immortalists Summary
Death is a constant fascination for human beings. We read about it, we watch movies about it, we fear it, we wonder what will happen after it…but what if we could know when we were going to die? Would it change anything about how we lived our our lives? That’s the concept author Chloe Benjamin explores in her New York Times bestselling novel The Immortalists.
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and four siblings—Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya—seek out a fortune teller who predicts each child’s time of death. At the time, the Gold siblings have no idea how much that one encounter will influence the rest of their lives. But over the course of the novel, we follow each sibling over the next five decades, and we see how the prediction of their death influences how they live their lives.
This is a reading guide with book club questions to help you discuss The Immortalists. Please note this post contains some spoilers.
Themes Explored in The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Well, let’s get the big one out of the way first: death. We all know death is coming for us, but the Gold siblings believe they know exactly when their death will come. Whether we like to think about it or not, impending death motivates us. We act differently because we know we only have so much time on this planet. Benjamin explores that motivation in this book, and she heightens it by giving her characters’ lives a specific timeline. How does death motivate us? That’s one of the main questions Benjamin wants to explore in this novel.
But there’s also the issue of fate versus free will, and that’s a big question in The Immortalists. Do the Gold siblings fulfill their fates because it was predestined? Or were they pushed in that direction because of what the fortune teller told them? Do we have the ability to change our fates, or are we all on a trajectory that cannot be altered?
There are heavy, existential questions Benjamin asks the reader to grapple with in this book. Let’s break them down a little bit more with some specific book club discussion questions.
The Immortalists Book Club Questions
- The Immortalists is broken into four sections, each told from the perspective of a different sibling. Did this narrative decision work for you? Was there one narration that you preferred over the others? Which sibling did you identify with the most, and why?
- New York City is such an important setting at the beginning of the novel. What do you think the city symbolizes for the Gold siblings? Why do you think each of the siblings moved away from the city?
- Author Chloe Benjamin provides readers with vivid descriptions of each of the settings in the book. As the siblings move to different places, how does setting remain important to the story? How do the settings affect the stories of each of the characters?
- Belief systems are a really big part of this story and inform the way each Gold sibling lives their lives. How is each Gold sibling different in what they believe about the world? How are those beliefs reflected in the way they live their lives? In their deaths?
- Speaking of belief…Do you believe that the fortune teller predicted the deaths of the Gold siblings, or do you think the Golds died the way they did because they believed they would? There is evidence in the text to support both readings. Which do you believe, and why?
- Do you think the Gold siblings would have lived their lives differently if they hadn’t visited the fortune teller? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
- On his deathbed, Simon forgives the fortune teller for predicting he would die at the age of 20, because it led him to live out his life as his best, most authentic version of himself. Would you agree with Simon’s assessment? How would you live if you knew you would die young?
- On the opposite side of the spectrum, the fortune teller predicts that Varya will live a long life, and she spends her entire life looking for a way to live even longer. How do you feel about Varya’s interpretation of her future? What do you think happens to her after the novel?
- Benjamin also explores the meaning of family in The Immortalists. The Gold siblings clearly love one another, but that love becomes complicated by outside factors such as grief and guilt. How does the relationship between the Gold siblings change throughout the book, and what causes those changes?
- The Golds come from a conservative Jewish family. And since religious belief ties closely to beliefs about death, obviously religion comes up in this novel. In what ways are the siblings connected to their Jewish faith and identity? And in what ways are they removed from it?
- If you could find out when you would die, would you do it? Why or why not?
- How do you feel about the title of the novel The Immortalists? Is it fitting? Or would you name this novel something else?
Loved The Immortalists? Here’s What to Read Next!
If you loved The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin’s first novel The Anatomy of Dreams is also excellent. Or if you’re looking for more literary fiction about sibling relationships, I would recommend The Dutch House by Ann Patchett or The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
Looking to read more about The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin? There’s a great interview with the author over at Girls Night In Club. And there’s another interesting interview with Benjamin over at PopSugar. Reading interviews with the author can always help enrich a book club discussion.
Looking for more book club questions? Try these 40 Great Book Club Questions for Any Book. And have fun!