cover image The Golden Age

The Golden Age

Joan London. Europa (PRH, dist.), $17 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-60945-332-9

Seen one way, Frank Gold is unfortunate: he and his parents are from Hungary but are now “New Australians,” victims of World War II—refugees, displaced people, survivors—that Australia prides itself on having taken in. Nearly 13, he is a polio victim relearning how to walk; he’s seen a friend die in an iron lung. But Frank sees himself as a poet, one of the lucky few with a vocation, and as a lover. Having seen Elsa Briggs, another patient at the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Home, he knows that everything that has happened has lead him to her. London (The Good Parents) doesn’t limit herself to Frank and Elsa: although short, the book feels ample, telling not just Frank’s story but those of his parents, anxious pianist Ida and handsome Meyer, trying to adjust to Australia and cope with their wartime experiences; Elsa and her worried mother; and Sister Olive Penny, the Golden Age’s generous and efficient head nurse. They all get time to shine in this limpid book about health and death, love and poetry, sex and hope, war and its aftermath. Like Sister Penny, London sees past people’s exteriors to their complex and desirous interiors, and she generously offers those people to us in all their fullness. The novel was a recipient of multiple awards in London’s native Australia, and deservedly so: it is pretty much perfect. (Aug.)