Four siblings between the ages of 7 and 13 find their way to the home of a "rishika," or seer, a Romani gypsy woman who tells them not their fortunes, but the date of their deaths.
It is how these children live their lives knowing this information that will keep the pages turning in "The Immortalists," the second novel of Chloe Benjamin.
She hopes to offer solace and companionship in navigating life's uncertainties, as well as the enduring pull of family.
"The book is not about dying," Benjamin said. "It's about living, embracing as fully and fearlessly as possible what time we're given."
The storyline has attracted a production company and the book has been optioned for a major television series.
"They'll be going out with the pitches in February, fingers crossed!" Benjamin said.
Benjamin's first novel, "The Anatomy of Dreams," won the Edna Ferber Fiction award. Originally from San Francisco, she holds an MFA in fiction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her fiction, poetry and essays have been widely published.
As her new characters move forward, she writes about appreciating life, understanding religion, the life of a gay man (the youngest brother), the life of a man who has lost control (the older brother), of understanding the deeper mysteries of life and the possibility of prolonging life (choices taken up by the two sisters).
It is more subconscious "in terms of the cultural or political issues that the book explores," Benjamin said. "I am a product of the culture. The things on my mind are what became embedded in the book."
That includes the legacy of the Iraq war and the gay rights movement, she said. For example, she has two sets of parents, one of which is gay and one straight.
"At the same time, I wanted to write a book that was of the world, that had characters that were diverse," she said.
The youngest child, Simon, came to her first, then Klara. "I think at that point as I was writing those characters, I could take stock of what could the older two be."
She wanted to avoid the risk of similarities. "I didn't want readers to have a feeling of Groundhog Day," she said. "Daniel [sibling No. 2] is the most rigid and problematic. I always knew Varya [the oldest] would be the scientist."
While she started writing this book long before the presidential election, immigration and religion take a stand. The Gold children's parents Gertie and Saul are of Jewish heritage. Gertie's family fled Europe to escape the Nazis. Meanwhile, a character named Raj is an illegal immigrant.
"I think the story of immigrants is the story of this country. I am the descendent of immigrants," she said, noting that her family on her father's side includes Jewish immigrants who came through Ellis Island. "I wanted to look at it from a different vantage point in Raj, who becomes prominent as the book goes on."
Benjamin does not shy away from sexism faced by the four generations of women in her book.
"â€¦ One need look no further than the most recent election cycle to see that sexism is still alive and well, and that serious obstacles remain for women - especially those who are marginalized," she said in a publisher's interview. "I think it's still difficult to ignore dominant cultural definitions of female success. Varya has reached the top of her field, but she is still interrogated and pitied for not having a family of her own."
Benjamin also brings in mental health. "I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life, and there's no doubt that my own fears and coping mechanisms influenced the book," she said in a publisher's interview.
"You don't know as a reader whether this woman [the seer] has an incredible psychic power over what happens or with the siblings' own expectations," she said in an interview with Do Savannah. "That to me is the core to the book, the power of thought, self-fulfilling prophecy. What we tell ourselves or the way things really are. Or are things the way we really are?
"Because they believe in magic when a child â€¦ the book is very much about the power of the mind and how these prophecies unfold in the way they think about themselves and how it becomes realized."
Book: "The Immortalists"
When: 12:30 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Lutheran Church Sanctuary, 120 Bull St., Wright Square
Info: savannahbookfestival.org, chloebenjaminbooks.com