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.

Praise from Booksellers

The History of Living Forever evokes elements of The Confessions of Max Tivoli as well as some echoes of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Shadow of the Wind. Conrad, straddling the line between childhood idealism and adult responsibility, is thrust into unraveling the life of his lover/mentor in the hope of remaining connected to him, understanding his life/death, and possibly saving a father who is only barely there to begin with. The narrative structure, built around Sammy’s journals, added a pace and underlined the urgency of unraveling the mystery left on Conrad’s back porch. A well-balanced, highly accomplished first novel that, in addition to blending and bending genres, offers fully realized characters and a real emotional heart. I flew through this book. It will find a lot of readers.”

Michael Link, Joseph-Beth Booksellers

The History of Living Forever is itself a marvelous elixir: part love story, part adventure, part scientific and philosophical quest. It’s equally tender, wistful, and thought-provoking, with just enough wry humor to leaven the proceedings, and peril to keep readers on tenterhooks.”

Rebecca Oppenheimer, Kramerbooks

“Jake Wolff has outfitted his engrossing debut with all the time-hopping and mysteries-upon-mysteries one could hope for. Beyond that, though, his literary pyrotechnics serve to answer a different set of centuries-long conundrums: How do we heal ourselves in a world where pain seems never-ending? How do we find health and happiness when the lines between love and hate, between abuse and affection, between joy and sadness are so porous? We’re fortunate to have a writer as ambitious and tender as Jake Wolff on the case, not only with this magnificent novel but––if the elixir works––for a long time to come.”

Sam Krowchenko, Literati Bookstore

“I love that the story is part mystery, part science lesson, part history. And young Sammy and young Conrad are so vulnerable and abandoned that it’s impossible not to speed through the story in hopes that somewhere there will be complete happiness. I was totally engrossed.”

Kristin Pidgeon, Silver Unicorn Bookstore

“Jake Wolff is the author America needs, and The History of Living Forever, his heartfelt, hilarious debut novel, is the proof. When distrust is becoming the national norm, Wolff brings something to the table that is unguarded, honest, and refreshing. In this novel of science, alchemy, first love, mortality, heredity, and fathers and sons, it would be easy to shade into the saccharine, but Wolff’s prose is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. His narrator is quick-witted and occasionally cutting, but never wry, and so freely giving of his feelings that it’s impossible to see him as ironic or detached. And Wolff never sacrifices humanity for hilarity, showing the reader his characters’ insecurities and hopes. There are secret journals and confessions of love, sudden and inexplicable brushes with death. There are exotic locations and mundane ones, from Easter Island to doctors’ offices and high schools and research labs. The History of Living Forever feels like a living thing, with all the attending idiosyncrasies. It feels honest, and its honesty feels brave.”

Jesse Davis, Novel Bookstore

“Is there an elixir of life to keep us alive into eternity? Or are we just seeking human love and tenderness?  In Jake Wolff’s original and beautifully written debut novel, he takes the reader on a journey of alchemy, homosexuality, and discovery while carrying us into the world of chemistry and what it can give us, spanning centuries of alchemists, all searching for the that fountain of youth. A very fine debut, Wolff will keep readers of all kinds in his pages next summer.”

Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books

“Jake Wolff takes as many risks within the narrative of The History of Living Forever as its characters do. His daring success can be measured in the feverish beat of the reader’s pulse, captivated, challenged, surprised, and moved. Well-turned phrases appear as tree branches carried on a swift current suddenly deposited in an eddy. This tale of the alchemy of immortality, of the quest for an elixir of life, is powerfully driven by a tension between an expansive desire to transmute the nature of life versus a reductive drive to prolong it. The mutability of both time and character suffuses the story, making sixteen-year-old Conrad’s coming-of-age unexpectedly multilayered and complex. If ever a book invited looking into the future it is The History of Living Forever, and I predict that it will have a long and glorious life.”

Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers