The Golden Age by Joan London
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. It is a place where children must learn they’re alone, even within their families.
First Impressions: London’s writing style really transports you back to the 1950s. To say it is beautifully written is an understatement.
Highlights: This is a very thought provoking novel. I hadn’t ever considered the polio epidemic so I found that really interesting, particularly how each polio patient has their vivid ‘onset story’. The additional layer to the story about Frank’s family being migrants from Hungary and their experiences both in Europe and Perth really added an extra dimension to the story telling. I really felt for Frank’s parents as they adjusted to life in such an alien city and landscape. New country, new start, yet burdened with polio – you really feel for the Gold family. One moment from the novel that will stay with me for a while is when Frank’s mother Ida laments that much to her despair the few errors she makes in her otherwise perfect piano playing wouldn’t be noticed by Australian audiences; such errors would not be tolerated by elite musicians or audiences with keen ears in Vienna, and rightly so! One other thing I liked about this novel was that the chapters were told by a variety of characters all linked to The Golden Age hospice. You learnt about their private lives and were often surprised.
If I was an editor: It is hard to think of how to improve this novel. I don’t know if ‘where are they now’ final chapters always work. This one was interesting but perhaps didn’t add to much to the novel as a whole.
Overall: A beautiful and perfect example of melancholy.
The Golden Age: 5 Stars