The title of Joan London’s book “The Golden Age” refers not to an era but to a children’s polio convalescent home in Perth, Australia. Thirteen-year-old Frank Gold has needed a wheelchair since he contracted polio at the height of the epidemic in the late 1940s. He resents the loss of privacy at the Golden Age. He abhors “the babyishness of the place, its pygmy toilets, its naps and rules, half-hospital, half-nursery school, and his feelings of demotion when he was sent here.”

Frank “felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home.”

Each of the patients had an onset story. Frank’s was in no way remarkable. “It involved a blinding headache, his refusal to get up [out of bed] and fever and dizziness as Meyer, his father, carried him to the ambulance.”

The Golds were Jewish refugees deported to Australia from their native Budapest. It appeared that life in Australia would bring them happiness until Frank was struck with the disease. Meyer muses: “As if a curse had pursued them from the Old World and was not quite done with them, and still had the cruelest trick of all up its sleeve. It completed his sense of powerlessness that he had not protected his boy.”

Characterization is the novel’s primary achievement. Readers will feel affection for Frank and the many secondary characters.

 

Katherine Bailey is a book critic in Bloomington.

The Golden Age
By: Joan London.
Publisher: Europa Editions, 221 pages, $17.