A chemistry student falls for his teacher and uncovers a centuries-old quest for the Elixir of Life
Conrad Aybinder is a boy with a secret; sixteen and ready for anything. A chemistry genius, he has spent the summer on an independent-study project with his favorite teacher, Sammy Tampari. Sammy is also Conrad’s first love. But the first day of senior year, the students are informed that Mr. Tampari is dead. Rumors suggest an overdose. How can it be? Drugs are for unhappy people, Conrad is sure, not for people who have fallen in love.
Soon, though, it is clear that Sammy had a life hidden even from Conrad, evidenced by the journals he left for Conrad to discover after his death. The journals detail twenty years of research aimed at creating recipes for something called the Elixir of Life. Sammy has left Conrad a mystery and a scientific puzzle, but also, it seems, the chance to cure his father’s terminal illness. Conrad must race against time and other interested parties to uncover the missing piece of the recipe. What will he do to discover the formula?
Spanning centuries of scientific and alchemical inquiry, ranging from New York to Romania to Easter Island, featuring drug kingpins, Big Pharma flunkies, centenarians, and a group of ambitious coin collectors, Jake Wolff’s The History of Living Forever is equal parts thrilling adventure and meditation on mortality, thoughtful investigation of mental illness, and a reminder to be on the lookout for magic in science and life.
About the Author
Jake Wolff received an MFA in fiction from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a Ph.D. in creative writing from Florida State University. His stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Tin House, One Story, and American Short Fiction. He lives in Orlando, Florida, where he is an assistant professor of English at the University of Central Florida.
"The search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in [Jake] Wolff’s intoxicating debut . . . The epic sweep and sly humor in the midst of enormous anguish will remind readers of Michael Chabon’s work as they relish this heady exploration of grief, alchemy, and love."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[Jake] Wolff riffs on immortality in a fresh, engrossing tale with a zany cast of characters . . . Wolff's wild, hilarious, and moving adventure is rooted in reason and the tough truths of life: how easy it is to hurt the ones we love; that forgetting is easier than forgiving; and that life (with an elixir or not) is never long enough."
—Katharine Uhrich, Booklist, starred review
"With uncommon perceptiveness and a vivid imagination, Wolff has crafted a story that is both highly unusual and, in its way, universal. The History of Living Forever is not only another entry on the long list of stories about the quest for eternal life, but part of another grand storytelling tradition: the coming-of-age tale."
—Hannah Calkins, Shelf Awareness
"[The History of Living Forever is] about growing, developing relationships, and learning to live. A noteworthy first novel."
—Michael Russo, Library Journal
“Full of compassion and creativity, humor and suspense, The History of Living Forever follows a vivid cast of characters as they search for the elixir of life—and the secrets they’ve hidden from one another. Jake Wolff’s voice rings with authenticity and wisdom as he reveals that the mystery of human being has as much to do with relationships as it does with mortality. As the novel careens across countries and through centuries, building toward a climax that Wolff pulls off with astonishing panache, The History of Living Forever asks how far we’ll go for the ones we love.”
—Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists
“The History of Living Forever is a mystery wrapped in a love story wrapped in a thrilling scientific adventure. Two star-crossed heroes travel the globe and dive into history, seeking the elixir of life. While they gather ingredients they also collect pieces of a larger puzzle, uncovering secrets and betrayals that lead to a deeper understanding of family, connection, and the inner spirit that fuels us all. Jake Wolff is an extraordinary alchemist, and his story’s formula will linger with readers long after they turn the final page.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief and The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
“Jake Wolff has gifted us a deep, daring, adventurous, and highly entertaining debut. At turns funny, painful, philosophical, and always surprising, The History of Living Forever manages to tackle some of the big questions about being human, and still somehow remains light on its feet—not an easy task, to be sure. This book is a delight.”
—Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
“Like shock therapy, like either the origin or demise of a living thing, love (both romantic and familial) can be explained (to an inadequate and woefully disappointing degree) by chemistry. But how we become, say, a couple, a family, or ourselves? Nobody really knows—but this novel slyly demonstrates its alchemy. We see both the actual history of crackpot genius chemists and their pursuit of immortality from 219 B.C. to the present as well as the unforgettable tale of Conrad Aybinder’s attempt to understand the men he loves: his long-dead high school chemistry teacher; his perpetually dying father; and his beloved, suddenly mortal husband. Whip-smart, heartbreaking, engrossing, often funny, and truly original, Jake Wolff’s The History of Living Forever is one of the finest debut novels I’ve ever read.”
—Mark Winegardner, author of Crooked River Burning and The Godfather Returns
“The History of Living Forever, Jake Wolff’s dazzling debut novel about a young man’s quest to discover a life-extending elixir, is a coming-of-age story but also an edge-of-your-seat thriller; a tender love story but also a rollicking buddy adventure; a celebration of the intellect but also a tribute to the human heart. An inventive work of the imagination that spans generations and continents, and is enhanced by its Anthony Doerr–like reverence for science and history, The History of Living Forever seamlessly weaves together complex plots, historical interludes, compelling characters, delicious digressions, facts and fictions, and time itself.”
—Judith Claire Mitchell, author of A Reunion of Ghosts