Award-winning Australian author London (The Good Parents, 2008, etc.) illuminates lives touched by polio and World War II in her third novel, set in a convalescent home in Perth.
A children's polio clinic called The Golden Age serves as the book's focus. Beside it stands the Netting Factory, operating noisily day and night. The children, brought up never to waste electricity, find the factory "breathtakingly extravagant." It seems to promise "No one will ever die here." In short, vivid chapters, London draws the reader into her characters' lives. Thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, a Jewish refugee from Hungary, discovers poetry. When asked how he knows the word "nostalgia," Frank thinks: "How could he not? Nostalgia was everywhere. It had a special voice, and special time—sunset, Sunday nights." He falls in love with another patient, Elsa, who's mourning the loss of her bike, Malvern. Meanwhile, Frank's parents, Meyer and Ida, try to adjust to a city wholly unlike their beloved Budapest. Ida, a concert pianist, has refused to play since Frank contracted polio. London's work has garnered many Australian prizes—the Prime Minister's Award for Fiction, the Patrick White Literary Award, and others—for good reason. Her writing is cleareyed, generous-hearted, never sentimental: "Meyer sat down humbly on the white cover, next to his son's wasted legs....This is why the human race goes on having children, he thought. To remind us of the bliss of being loved." The horror and unfairness of the disease exist alongside the tenderness of human connections. At its heart, the book is about people living in places they never chose: the polio clinic, for the children in wheelchairs and calipers; Australia, for Frank's cultured parents. In one of the book's most moving scenes, Ida plays the piano for a charity benefit. In front of sleepy children and townsfolk "fresh-shaven, with big, clean ears," she nonetheless strives for perfection. "This was the land in which her life would take place....This was her audience....She must do her very best."
Every character, however minor, comes to life in these pages. Like her fictional pianist, London is a virtuoso.