Friday 23 August 2013

Book Review: The Elixir of Immortality by Gabi Gliechmann

Title: The Elixir of Immortality
Author: Gabi Gleichmann
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: October 2013
Pages: 800
Format: E-Book - PDF
Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical     
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Since the eleventh century, the Spinoza family has passed down, from father to son, a secret manuscript containing the recipe for immortality. Now, after thirty-six generations, the last descendant of this long and illustrious chain, Ari Spinoza, doesn’t have a son to whom to entrust the manuscript. From his deathbed, he begins his narrative, hoping to save his lineage from oblivion.

Ari’s two main sources of his family’s history are a trunk of yellowing documents inherited from his grandfather, and his great-uncle Fernando’s tales that captivated him when he was a child. He chronicles the Spinozas’ involvement in some of Europe’s most formative cultural events with intertwining narratives that move through ages of tyranny, creativity, and social upheaval: into medieval Portugal, Grand inquisitor Torquemada’s Spain, Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, the French Revolution, Freud’s Vienna, and the horrors of both world wars.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

The Elixir of Immortality starts strongly with an interesting plot and a fairly grandiose plan. I very much like the ambitious idea behind the story and, on the whole, Gleichmann pulls it off well. The prose is readable and the characters are interesting - well-rounded even though we only see some of them for a few pages.

For the most part, the book appears well researched. My only complaint was the portrayal of Robespierre which follows the worst of the negative reports about him rather than looking at the facts - but then I am very pro-Robespierre and get upset by the black myth that abounds.

Usually long books, if well written, do not worry me, but here I felt the book was a tad on the long side. Not that the writing was bad - it wasn't - but I did find my interest in the story and characters waning during the last 150 pages or so and I looked forward to the conclusion.

For that reason and that reason alone, I gave this book three stars, but it's really three and a half.

If you are looking for a read with something different to offer, then this is worth checking out.

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