Behind the Pages of THE IMMORTALISTS with Sally Kim and Chloe Benjamin
Celebrating the publication of THE IMMORTALISTS, one of the most highly anticipated books of 2018, we present a special “Behind the Pages” interview with the novel’s editor, Sally Kim, Vice President, Editorial Director, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, and author Chloe Benjamin.
On sale from Putnam on January 9, this profoundly moving and compulsively readable family love story asks the question: If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life? Beautifully rendered in Benjamin’s lucid, magical prose, THE IMMORTALISTS is a sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, probing the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.
Read on to go Behind the Pages of THE IMMORTALISTS.
How did you discover Chloe Benjamin and what were the first things that struck you about THE IMMORTALISTS manuscript?
I was lucky that Chloe’s agent included me on her submission list, and I remember loving the book from its pitch alone. (I think I might have even sent her an idiotic note like, “I love this book already!”) There are 101 things I love about this book, but what struck me right away is how Chloe takes such a high concept (to continue that overused term) and completely delivers on the page-turning story level, but also just slays you with her beautiful writing, line by line. I remember having to pause at times, just to fully savor a turn of phrase or a stunning moment. It’s so rare to have both strengths—both incredibly hard to accomplish—live in one novel.
How would you describe the editor/author process as this book reached its final form?
It may sound funny, but we started the editing process even before the auction! I’ll always remember that first call with Chloe, when I was trying to woo her, and we jumped right into talking about changes for certain characters, amping up a story’s thread…what if we tried this, and what about that. We clicked right away and talked for over an hour, and I knew I’d love working with her. She was smart, funny, humble – but she’d worked *hard* on this book, over many years, and was confident and firm in all the right ways: she was open, but also had a strong vision. In other words, my idea of the perfect collaborator!
What elements of THE IMMORTALISTS do you think will resonate most strongly with readers?
Another question with too many answers! But if I had to whittle it down to the one people continue to write in, comment, post about: It’s the way this book takes such large ideas—such as: Can you change your destiny? Can a story be real, just because you believe it to be true?—and gives you a way to examine them up close, with characters you live a lifetime with, without proposing to give you one final answer at the end.
What was the inspiration behind THE IMMORTALISTS’ plot premise and creation of the primary storylines?
I’ve always been drawn to big questions: What are the benefits and perils of knowledge? How can we live fully in the face of uncertainty? And how do we love through and despite the possibility of loss? These questions simmered in the background as I built the structure of THE IMMORTALISTS, which follows four siblings who, as children, receive prophecies about the dates that they will supposedly die. The structure of the novel–it’s told in four sections, one per each sibling, each picking up where the previous one let off–came to me very early. I also knew I wanted each sibling to be quite different, both in their life experiences and in their orientation toward the prophecy. All four required a great deal of research.
How do you see readers identifying with your novel and its characters?
A reader may not be a magician like Klara, or a gay man finding himself in 1980s San Francisco, like Simon–but the questions about life and loss that these characters struggle with are, I think, universal. Secretly, I hope that readers will connect with the siblings who are on the face of it quite different from them. We live in hard, fractured times, and books are rare in their ability to inspire empathy.