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The Golden Age by Joan London
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The Golden Age (2014)

by Joan London

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I thought I'd like this more than I did - found it a little slow, and the story seemed to trail off at the end. But it was an interesting depiction of the polio epidemic set in Perth, written mostly from the point of view of a boy and a girl. ( )
  bobbieharv | Aug 10, 2017 |
I read about Joan London's novel, THE GOLDEN AGE, in The New Yorker's "Briefly Noted" column. It sounded intriguing enough to buy. I am so glad that I did. Simply stated, this is a beautifully-written book about the last days of the Polio epidemics, just before the Salk vaccine became available and made the near eradication of this crippling disease possible.

Set in Perth, in western Australia, the novel centers around two 13 year-old Polio patients - Frank Gold and Elsa Briggs - residents of a small rehabilitation center for children called The Golden Age (which was, incidentally, a real place, although the story is fictional). We watch these two young people, the oldest of the children, come of age, become close and yes, fall in love.

The book renders a real flavor of the fear that surrounded polio, how families of polio victims were often ostracized and avoided. As in the way Elsa's mother became aware of this -

"The first time she'd walked into the butcher's after Elsa went to hospital, some people walked out. It seemed to her now that her home had a darkness about it, a mark on its door. She felt like an outcast ..."

Young Frank, who aspires to be a poet, thinks of polio as 'The Third Country,' and writes of Elsa -

"You are the first inhabitant
I meet
In this new country."

Perhaps tellingly, Frank's poems are written on the pages of a prescription pad he found. The words he scribbles, in his newfound profession, are a kind of medicine, an antidote to his pain and isolation, and the loneliness and heartbreak of first love. His parents, Meyer and Ida Gold are "new Australians" - refugees from Hungary, upper class survivors of the Holocaust, a distinction that isolates Frank even more among his peers.

All of the characters in THE GOLDEN AGE are well defined, become real as the story progresses - the Golds, the Briggses, Sister Olive Penny (the center's administrator), the physiotherapists, the handyman, many of the children. No one escapes the attention of London's fine eye.

There is one passage near the end of the book which caused me to miss my mother all over again. A young man, thinking of his mother and himself -

"They are the readers in the family. She's the person with whom he discusses books."

Yes. My mother, myself.

The bits and pieces of information here about polio itself, as well as the war years and early fifties, brought back all my own research on these subjects. It is very real, very authentic. But what moved me most was the heartbreakingly beautiful arc of the story itself. I am so glad I did not miss this lovely little book out of Australia. I loved it. Bravo, Ms. London. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of LOVE, WAR & POLIO: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF YOUNG BILL PORTEOUS ( )
  TimBazzett | Dec 8, 2016 |
I loved this and I loved the experience of just coming across it. A book that arrived with absolutely no fanfare (I'm look at you, Sweetbitter) but that was almost perfect. A beautifully told story about the young residents of a polio hospital in Perth in the early 1950s, their parents, and the people who care for them.

Very very satisfying. In my mind, I am giving it an extra half star. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
I gave it 8/10 at our book club. I loved the style of writing, and gave it yo my 13 yo grandson to read , and he likes it too. I liked the medical aspect, the history of the eradication of polio, and the current status of that fight. Thinking of anti-vaccers gives me the horrors. I liked the lead to the poetry of Byron , and "The Bridge" by an American. ( )
  MaximWilson | Jun 20, 2016 |
The second last book in my quest to read the 2015 Stella Prize longlist. I wasn't hugely taken by London's previous novel, Gilgamesh, so I wasn't super excited to tackle this. Somewhat surprisingly, I loved it - a gorgeously written evocation of a 1950s children's polio rehabilitation centre in Perth, The Golden Age has a lot to say about love, family, independence and coming to terms with the hand life deals you. The supporting characters are rich and memorable (Frank's parents in particular), while the two teenagers at the centre of the plot feel a bit idealised. The writing is luminous and the sense of time and place effortlessly conveyed.

(The cover of the book is ludicrous though - there's no character who fits the demographic of the dude on the cover, and no train trips in the whole book. A bafflingly lazy bit of production.) ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joan Londonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cull, SandyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldin, NanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For my three sisters
First words
One afternoon during rest-time, the new boy, Frank Gold, left his bed, lowered himself into his wheelchair and glided down the corridor.
Quotations
He, Ida and Frank had left behind all their family and friends, those who had survived.  But the dead came with you.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At the Golden Age Children's Polio Convalescent Home in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond.

The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs: love and desire, music, death, and poetry. It is a place where children must learn they're alone, even within their families.
It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At the Golden Age Children's Polio Convalescent Home in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond.

The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, whereby everything occurs: love and desire, music, death, and poetry. It is a place where children must learn they're alone, even within their families.
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