Chair of judges Shoshana Boyd Gelfand said: “This year’s Wingate long list was so strong it was an almost impossible task to agree on just six titles for a short list.
“Throughout our process we agreed to consider each book on its own merit, based on our agreed criteria. The result is that five of our six chosen books are works of fiction – something we believe reflects the extraordinarily high quality of fiction submissions this year, which we found to be an exciting development for the field of Jewish writing. The judges felt that many of our chosen short list have used the power of fiction to address important historical, political and ethical themes in ways which are usually addressed by works of non-fiction.
“In addition, four of our six books are written by women, another positive development and one that we hope continues. When we started our judging process, we hoped to discover books that explored Jewish issues in novel and compelling ways. Without exception, these short list books fulfill those expectations. We hope all readers will feel similarly.”
It's 1969 in New York and the four Gold siblings visit a fortune teller who tells each of them the date they'll die. Over the decades, they try to come to terms with the prophetic time bomb in this stunning, immersive, will-make-you-cry novel.
Benjamin is trying to do a lot in this novel and it doesn’t always work. Sometimes she shows her workings too clearly: musing on her siblings, Varya wonders how they could “diverge so dramatically in their temperaments, their fatal flaws”. The investigation Varya is conducting into human longevity is too heavy-handedly metaphorical for its own good. Benjamin has researched her material meticulously and too much information makes its way undigested on to the page; there are also several moments where the plot veers towards the preposterous... But despite these cavils The Immortalists worms its way under your skin. Benjamin writes with verve and charm and her four protagonists are resolutely real.
The Immortalists remains a boundlessly moving inquisition into mortality, grief and passion. Rotating the plot cogs around when each of the Golds dies seems less important to Benjamin than fleshing out how these divergent siblings choose to live. From Simon’s grande jetés to Varya’s quest to unlock genetic longevity, each one struggles to snatch some mastery from the jaws of death.... The Immortalists is not just a novel about grief; it conjures characters with such dimension that you mourn them too, a magic rare enough to leave one astonished.
The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin’s second novel, is mesmerising, like a well-crafted illusion. It offers a seductive premise: what if you knew the exact date of your death? Would it affect the choices you make, change your life’s patterns and pathways?... The Immortalists boasts some dramatic twists and turns but these in truth are unnecessary. Benjamin is a gifted writer, a creator of quiet asides and haunting images who mines a seam of sad wisdom.
Benjamin keeps an elegant ambiguity working throughout the whole thing. It’s never entirely clear that the fortune teller who spoke to the Gold siblings told the truth: Were they always fated to die when they did? Or did the idea of their death dates lurk in their minds, drawing each into the patterns that would eventually kill them?
Whether or not their foreknowledge is accurate, the Golds are not, on balance, significantly different from the rest of us. Like the rest of us, they’re all aware of their death all the time. So they’re always a little bit sad, all the time. But it’s what they do with their sadness and their fear, The Immortalists suggests, that make them worth following.
Can we escape our fate? That question haunts the four Gold siblings in this novel, after a visit they make, as children, to a fortune-teller who predicts the day each of them will die. True or not, her pronouncements haunt the characters through their lives. One, told he’ll die young, runs away to San Francisco at sixteen. Another becomes a scientist obsessed with cheating death. The book spans decades, touching on the aids crisis, 9/11, race, and marriage. But, at its core, it’s an examination of free will and fate. “Was the woman as powerful as she seemed,” one of the children wonders, or did she herself “take steps that made the prophecy come true?”