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The Golden Age

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  280 ratings  ·  45 reviews
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
Paperback, 329 pages
Published April 20th 2010 by Dalkey Archive Press
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Glenn Russell

The Golden Age - Tale of an island along the Tropic of Cancer way far out in the Atlantic Ocean, an island twelve miles wide and so perpetually high it makes Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds appear drab.

Novel as 329-page travelogue of the fantastic provided complements of a narrator/travel guide who now lives in Prague following a three year sojourn on this island that has no name, nameless since the islanders "did not like fixed names and changed their own with great frequency." If this sounds lik
Jun 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
I've wanted to like Michal Ajvaz. He's Czech. He's into Borges' brand of metaphysical, surreal fantasy. Even after only barely talking myself into liking his other book in translation, The Other City, and reading some lackluster reviews of this one here, I continued wanting to like Michal Ajvaz. After so much wanting to like him, at about page 70 of The Golden Age, I had a very unpleasant feeling, akin to the first time you stick your cute but annoying nephew in a corner for a time out (though h ...more
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I described the subject matter of The Golden Age to the members of my wife's book club, a group of highly educated middle-aged women, teachers and public administrators some of whom have impeccable literary pedigrees, there was an audible groan around the room. Conversely, when I described it to some young friends who are designers, animators and filmmakers, they were excited by the ideas. If you are inclined to a realist view of the world and its literature you should probably stay away, b ...more
Nov 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is not a book for everyone... If you like Borges and Calvino, it's possible that you will enjoy this book, but probably not guaranteed. If you don't like them, then you won't like Ajvaz either.

The Golden Age is at first a travelogue about a fictitious and fantastical island and then a recounting of stories within the Island's "Book." The Golden Age itself has a lot in common with the Book, similarly labyrinthine and prone to tangents.

There isn't much of a plot overall, though stories that
Phillip Ramm
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
*Some Mild Spoilers*

This is the stuff that grabs me - experimental, inventive, a pure and utter smashing of the rulebooks of fiction. Plot goes out the window - it's a travelogue allegedly - but the art of splendid storytelling doesn't. There are so many stories to tell, stories within stories, things ot describe and explain, amazingly imaginative, frustrating and fascinating, never-ending loops and diversions on the most subtle and eerily portentious incidental details.

The narrator wants to te
Bookmarks Magazine
Dec 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: jan-feb-2011
Readers will not open The Golden Age without thinking immediately of Jorge Luis Borges, the mid-20th century Argentine writer obsessed with libraries, labyrinths, and puzzles who influenced a subsequent generation of writers. Comparisons between Ajvaz's novel and China Mieville's more recent and critically acclaimed The City and the City are also apt, particularly in the way that both deal with perception and our shifting definitions of reality, though Mieville's is a more accessible book. The G ...more
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Imagine if Borges got lost in Night Vale and you have Michal Ajvaz. As this explains, Ajvaz's characters are generally split between the observers and the interpreters, with the latter attempting vainly to make sense of the subliminal signs and codes of the universe to which language struggles to give shape. The island explored in The Golden Age, however, is an observer culture and the result is a worldview so alien as to be almost out of grasp. For instance, there is the islanders' obsession wi ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-reread
Of the nearly one hundred books I read last year, I only gave four a 5-star rating. One of those four was Ajvaz's The Other City, the first of his books to come to my attention. Thus I approached The Golden Age with that mix of excitement and trepidation that comes when you start exploring an author's work after loving your first experience: will the rest of the author's writing compare?

I was happy to find that my second Ajvaz was also a great read, almost matching The Other City in terms of pur
Marc Kozak
May 27, 2010 rated it liked it
I'm a giant sucker for picking up books by unknown authors who are correctly or incorrectly compared to Borges. Even when the book fails to reach to heights of Borges (which they all inevitably do), there's still a lot that I love about labyrinths inside of labyrinths, books containing books within books, and the mixture of the real with the fantastic.

So what we have here is a book I randomly stumbled upon on Goodreads, that features a bold description of "Heir to the philosophical-fantastical t
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: czech-literature
This is a very different novel. It appears to be a travelogue, but with a difference. The narrator has travelled to an island in the Atlantic Ocean, whose inhabitants live in a milieu unlike any other. They have none of the conventional trappings of modern life and in fact have successfully assimilated all attempts at colonisation. Key to the novel is "The Book" the island's work in progress full of tales within tales, digressions, meanderings, a completely non-linear work, which the narrator di ...more
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
There are some interesting ideas in this, but they just get repeated over and over in slightly different (though as bland) packaging. And I'm not sure if it's the author or the translator's fault but many of the sentences were impenetrable - and not in a challenging, rewarding way. Once in a while I'd come across a sentence that seemed to be constructed entirely of, "huh?", descriptors - and you might think, well, with a book that deconstructs language and the interrelatedness of words and thing ...more
Mar 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
re-e-e-eally good

How our language and perception seperate us from the world.

Quietly meditative and thoughtful, this book spins your head with gems throughout. Keep your notebook handy to savour them again later.
May 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
A little bit confuse at first..............but it turn out fabs!
Dan Plonsey
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a maker of experimental music, I feel somewhat obligated to explore experimental literature, always hoping to find something which is odd but still readable. Thus, five stars for The Golden Age -- which I recommend for others in my situation.

At the outset, the narrator explains (vaguely -- don't be put off by the first few pages!) that it is his intention to revisit through faded memories an island upon which he spent three years in his "traveling days." It is only now that memory is failing
Monica Carter
Feb 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: btba
Perhaps, dear reader, you think that as I write my mind is filled with visions of the island, that nothing is important to me except the efforts to fish out of memory clearly-drawn pictures of the landscape of the island. Perhaps you think I consider you a remote figure, unreal and bothersome, a figure that disturbs my dreams and at whose behest I have to demean and exert myself by transferring glowing images into dark, clumsy words, to bind the manacles of grammar and syntax the free, light m
David H.
Sep 08, 2019 marked it as abandoned
Why I didn't finish this: I don't remember. I think I picked it up on a recommendation from Jeff VanderMeer's blog a decade ago, and then quit after a few pages.
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Apparently June is my month for reading and really liking books by Michal Ajvaz. I read and enjoyed The Other City last year (I wrote about it here), and this year I couldn't resist The Golden Age when I saw it at the library. The back cover describes The Golden Age as "a fantastical travelogue by a modern-day Gulliver about a civilization he once encountered on a tiny island in the Atlantic," where he lived for nearly three years, learning about the island and becoming "infected with the island ...more
Jan 15, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ajvaz
15 jan 15, thursday morning, 7:48 a.m. e.s.t.
on this one now, kindle, cued it up a time back. now seems to be a good moment to begin.
there's three quotes at from alexius meinong, the theory of objects, another from plato, paramenides, the last from franz kafka, "the care of a family man"
59-chapter index each with a title story begins:

1 the second journey
whenever i told my friends about the island in the atlantic ocean where in my traveling days i spent almost three years, it often ha
Apr 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Review based on 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 island
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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, ...more
Charlie Zoops
Jun 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Is a fictitious travel story of an island without a name. It is a story entailing vast descriptions, loaded with a mathematical sense of articulation for ideas which are formless. The islanders, which the narrator speaks mostly about, are a people of apathetic beauty and active indifference. They are people who are intentionally artless and deal with life as a continuum rather than a source of meaning. They use self de-constructing languages and their voices are intertwined with rustling-like mu ...more
Sep 21, 2011 rated it liked it
A fictional travelogue with a philosophical bent, The Golden Age will appeal to fans of Borges. The narrator travels to a remote island whose inhabitants find meaning in the transitory and inexact: murmurs, stains, the sounds of water and wind, the shifting of stories as they travel from person to person. The narrator is sometimes frustrated with the islanders acceptance of the inexact. Indeed, it's frustrating for the reader too as he tells it. There are passages that can be a slog as the narra ...more
A beautiful and magical book that twists and turns around its own ideas, The Golden Age is not best suited for the impatient. Focusing heavily on its own digressions and on pure storytelling, Michal Ajvaz's "travelogue" feels anything but. Instead, as the narrator gets more and more lost in his own narrative, the reader is exposed to a myriad of fascinating and fantastic ideas.

The writing is at once simple and wondrously rich, resulting in a somewhat anachronistic style. On the one hand, Ajvaz i
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant borgesian metafiction! A travel report about a strange island binds several shorter stories. And it's these stories that are really outrageously good: An aesthet in his pyjamas and slippers with a revolver in hand is chasing a mysterious thief on the roofs of Paris. Her (the thief's) life is saved by sarif font. Is knowledge of infinitesimal calculus necessary for understanding the story of a lost ship? Unbelievable conspiracies, philosophical and lit-critical musings, stori ...more
Mark Van Aken Williams
Apr 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
If this novel is a utopian fantasy, then Michal Ajvaz’s tome is a deification of apathy. He attempts to resurrect Borges’ Tower, but only provides us with an island and its inhabitants who devote themselves to disappointment and dejection. Instead of shrugging these off, the islanders pursue it as the norm. This convex mirror does not really offer us a different way of interpreting the world, or even a reinterpretation of the familiar. All we end up with are the hallmark symptoms of schizophreni ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
The man writes beautifully, very strikingly poetic, but the story is disjointed (intentionally) and constantly shifting and so it takes some time to read. It took me a little longer than usually for me to get into it, but then I couldn't put it down because I wanted to see what happens (if anything). Art and perceptions and layers and love and kind of meanders along, with little bits of intriguing stories and lots of seemingly pointless descriptions. I will have to mull it over fo ...more
Colin Price
Jan 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Meta fiction like The Golden Age can be a mixed bag and my feelings after finishing it are certainly mixed. On one hand, there are some truly beautiful and transcendent images woven throughout the book. Many places where similarities to Borges and Calvino are clear. Yet the story is a jumbled mess of diversions and chaotic, fractured meaning. Where Borges and Calvino manage to turn these motifs into poignancy, Ajvaz only hits pretense. Though I found myself enjoying it more by the end, writing t ...more
Jonathan Cassie
Sep 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Ajvaz' book does read like a postmodern "Gulliver's Travels," without the biting satire and veiled naming of names (at least, if there is this naming of names, I don't see it). Nominally a travelogue of the narrator's visit to a peculiar island, it tells the story of the island's people from the advisedly outsider's perspective of the narrator. The book reaches is heights when it tells the story of "The Book," the island's principle artistic artifact - a massive, never-ending, never-beginning, d ...more
Jul 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Excellent tale that twists and wends in ways I wasn't suspecting. Reminds me of Italo Calvino, specifically, though not exclusively, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler . A great study in how we read, write and create stories. Highly recommend. ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another lesson in not letting myself be misled by hype. This book came VERY highly lauded and yet I found the language - even the basic sentence structure - is so stilted as to make it an incredibly dull read. I'm all for experimental. I'm all for odd. But this was just dull and with nothing new to offer. Next...
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Michal Ajvaz is a Czech novelist, essayist, poet, and translator. 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. In 2005, he was awarded the Jaroslav Seifert Prize for his novel Prázdné ulice (Empty Streets).

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“When on the island I sometimes imagined an inverse world, in which concert halls would be turned over to the sounds of rain and the rustling of winds while in the treetops and on the weirs and behind the walls of factories, sonatas and symphonies would ring out; in a world such as this the damp on the plastering of walls would probably form coherent text while the pages of books would be covered with indistinct marks.” 2 likes
“It is true that nothing here makes any sense, but this is no great misfortune; I learned from the islanders that sense is not of any particular importance, that its presence may even disrupt the clean lines of certain pictures and cast a cloud over their fine light, while laments on the absurdity of being struck me as self-indulgent and objectionable even before my stay on the island. Once you get a little used to a terrain cleansed of sense, you realize that there is amusement enough to be had here, and that only in its emptiness can the magic crystals of beauty originate. And in this space something is revealed: the silent dignity of people, animals, plants and objects, that is able to stir graciousness, compassion and reverence.” 0 likes
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