The Golden Age cover


Shortlist year: 2015

Shortlist category: Fiction

Published by: Random House Australia

This is a story of resilience, the irrepressible, enduring nature of love, and the fragility of life.

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 Hospital 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.

About the author

Joan London

Joan London is the author of two prize-winning collections of stories, Sister Ships and Letter to Constantine, which have been published in one volume as The New Dark Age. Her first novel, Gilgamesh, won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Good Parents, won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Joan London's books have all been published internationally to critical acclaim.

Judges’ comments

The Golden Ageis a novel of great beauty and depth. Wonderfully masquerading as a slight story about a moment in Australian history, and set in the insular and parochial Perth of 1954, it is in fact a large novel writ small. Frank Gold, the young son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, is confined to a convalescent home for polio victims.

Within this severely limited environment, Frank will discover love, death and his vocation as a poet. An encounter with Sullivan, an eighteen year old scholar-athlete who composes poetry in his head, while entombed in an iron lung, will teach Frank about the value of the life of the mind. In recording this young man's poetry on prescription pads, Frank will learn how poetry is made and also about its capacity to make sense of oneself and the world.

Love for a fellow child patient will also shape the poet-in-making, as will the complicated bonds between the protagonist and his deeply deracinated parents wrestling with the trauma of displacement from cosmopolitan Budapest to suburbia. Joan London's novel takes the restricting condition of illness as its starting point and weaves a story of irreducibly powerful emotion.

This is a grand narrative written on a most intimate and modest canvas.