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Heir to the philosophical-fantastical tradition of Borges, Calvino, and Perec, The Golden Age is Michal Ajvaz’s greatest and most ambitious work.The Golden Age is a fantastical travelogue in which a modern-day Gulliver writes a book about a civilization he once encountered on a tiny island in the Atlantic. The islanders seem at first to do nothing but sit and observe the world, and indeed draw no distinction between reality and representation, so that a mirror image seems as substantial to them as a person (and ...
Heir to the philosophical-fantastical tradition of Borges, Calvino, and Perec, The Golden Age is Michal Ajvaz’s greatest and most ambitious work.The Golden Age is a fantastical travelogue in which a modern-day Gulliver writes a book about a civilization he once encountered on a tiny island in the Atlantic. The islanders seem at first to do nothing but sit and observe the world, and indeed draw no distinction between reality and representation, so that a mirror image seems as substantial to them as a person (and vice versa); but the center of their culture is revealed to be “The Book,” a handwritten, collective novel filled with feuding royal families, murderous sorcerers, and narrow escapes. Anyone is free to write in “The Book,” adding their own stories, crossing out others, or even ap- pending “footnotes” in the form of little paper pouches full of extra text—but of course there are pouches within pouches, so that the story is impossible to read “in order,” and soon begins to overwhelm the narrator’s orderly treatise.
Posted June 2, 2010
This review is based on an Advanced Readers' Copy (ARC):
This dense little book took me much longer to read than I had anticipated by both the length and the description. I expected a light romp through the everyday experiences of the islanders and a longer foray into the "book" around which the island appears to be focused. Instead, I found an intellectual, philosophical, and incredibly thoughtful mock travelogue. The island of which the narrator speaks has an influential method of living, which pervades every aspect of the islanders lives, from their history, to the food that they eat and how they prepare it, to their so-called occupation, to their architecture, etc. This is initially described by the narrator, but as the travelogue proceeds, it becomes ever more apparent how pervasive the islanders' life view is.
The only exception to the islanders' seemingly lackadaisical and irreverent style of living seems to be their "book" -- the one "artform" that appears on the island. The book is what most of the reviews seem to focus on, logically so. Although "the book" itself is not really discussed and experienced until at least halfway through the travelogue, it is the most interesting and even unique aspect of the islanders life. Yet, even though "the book" is not really discussed until later in the travelogue, the first half of the travelogue is clearly necessary as background, so that "the book" is fully understood and appreciated. "The book" itself is interesting, but the tales within are absolutely fascinating. The reader almost feels as if he is losing sight of the beginning of any given tale, as it spins and diverges, but Ajvaz is skilled at bringing his reader full circle -- even if we need to wait a few more pages than is common. The wait, as Ajvaz himself notes, is often worth it, and the tale (within the tale within the tale...) is always rewarding.
Michal Ajvaz is a master at his art and has created a world that operates almost completely outside of most societal norms. He is adamant that he imparts no overall judgment either on the islanders or on the rest of the world, and I was convinced of his assertion. For me, the best parts were the divergent tales, both within "the book" and without. However, although the rest of the travelogue was not as "fun" as those tales, they were interesting and necessary to the whole.
I would not categorize this as "light reading," but I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for something different, something a little chewy, and something to make you pause and think.
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