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Golden Age (Czech Literature Series) Paperback – April 20, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“This 2001 novel, Ajvaz’s most brilliantly complicated, is a fictional travelogue, part philosophical ethnography and part potboiling fairy tale.” (Jonathan Bolton - CONTEXT)

“Michal Ajvaz is a literary magician creating worlds of worlds, worlds of words, worlds of objects. He is the fantastical baby of Borges and Timothy Leary. He is a cartographer on mescaline. He is Czech.” (Salonica)

About the Author

Michal Ajvaz is a Czech novelist, essayist, poet, and translator. In 2005, he was awarded the Jaroslav Seifert Prize for his novel Pra?zdne? ulice (Empty Streets). He is a researcher at Prague's Center for Theoretical Studies. In addition to fiction, he has published an essay on Derrida, a book-length meditation on Borges, and a philosophical study on the act of seeing.

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Product Details

  • Series: Czech Literature Series
  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (April 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564785785
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564785787
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,382,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This review was based on an Advanced Reader's 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.
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Format: Paperback
A novel of inaction, lassitude and unfinished business that turns out to be stuffed with incident. The narrator explains the strange culture and geography of the Atlantic island that was his home for three years--the place is nameless because the local language shifts so frequently that nothing sticks, and the inhabitants are mostly noted for their apparent indolence--and freely admits that his story barely qualifies as such, with no climax or even plot to speak of, and risks boring his scanty readership. But along the way, the book becomes a modern 1001 Nights, with digressive tales nested within tales, each topping the last in invention. A jewel thief makes a daring escape across a snowy roof; an astronomer loses himself in the lives of the otherworldly creatures he observes through his telescope; generations of royalty are destroyed by poisons, magic and plain old violence . . . far more goes on, in fact, than would seem to fit inside of The Golden Age's 300 pages.

What it all adds up to is another question, of course. The islanders would be befuddled by our search for "meaning" in any of this, which would seem to be at least part of Ajvaz's point. The book is actually quite provocative in its philosophical approach, and calls into question many of the assumptions of Western civilization, directly in its discussion of island life and even more potently through its atypical approach to narrative. In terms of sophistication and importance, Swift and Kafka are the names that are brought to mind. There's a sharp picture of modern life lurking behind the apparently unstructured surrealism. I especially liked the glimpse of budding, then fading romance that's captured in the narrator's almost offhanded mentions of his erstwhile island paramour.
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Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable book that should draw instant comparisons to Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler for how it breaks traditional narrative in a way that explores the relationship between reader and text. The narrator of the novel sets out at the beginning to craft a travelogue about his stay on a fictitious, fabulistic island. The inhabitants of the island adhere to their own cultural norms, which bear little resemblance to those of the rest of the world. For example, their language, and the characters used to write it, are ever evolving (almost daily), so that meaning itself is a fluid thing. This fact is important later in the novel, when it switches from travelogue (descriptions of the island and its inhabitants) to a sharing of stories from the island's lone book. This book contains the only text on the island, and like the native language, it is constantly changing, successive readers altering the stories contained within, composing tangents (contained in pockets attached to the part of the text on which they elaborate), and blotting out any passage they don't particularly like. In addition, if a word is smudged (which often happens, as the islanders build their homes with walls of falling water through which they must often pass), no attempt is made to repair the text, and even the smudge becomes as important a part of the new, resulting story as any of the words that are still legible. The whole novel is filled with similar concepts, exploring the idea of mutability, perhaps exposing the flaws in the traditional, blind belief in concreteness.

The only reason I didn't give this novel 5 stars was because it didn't quite engage me, as a story, as completely as Ajvaz's The Other City, or in the same way as other, similarly postmodern works.
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