Favorite Reads of 2010: The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz

Here we go. For the month of December, I’m going to be talking about my favorite reads of the year. This first he first one. I’ll collect all the posts at this thread.

The Golden Age really, really surprised me. I selected this book for my translated literature book club at local indie bookstore The Booksmith, pretty much sight unseen, and hoped for the best. Every single person in the club liked it, a-lot-a-lot. It was possibly the best discussion of a book we had all year.

That’s saying something, in particular since The Golden Age doesn’t have anything resembling a plot for its first half; and then the second half only has a plot by virtue of a crazy fantasy story that the narrator relates as part of a book he recounts. It’s not the easiest book to cozy up to, and yet it compelled me–I think all of us–from the very first page.

The Golden Age has some incredible prose, an almost limitless imagination, and some of the most amazing images I read all year. The book is about a man who visits a far-away island and basically writes about the island and its extremely strange culture. The first half is something like an enthnological study of the islanders, who have walls made of water, rivers that flow through their home, a language made from stains, caves build into their homes from which they mine gems (wait till Ajvaz discusses their food).

Eventually the narrative becomes absorbed by the island’s one Book, which all of the islanders contribute to, sort of like a paper and pen Wikipedia. Its this continually collapsing story of intrigue between kings and queens, with each story pitfalling into another, even more incredible story within in.

The island culture that Ajvaz builds up around this idea is both brilliant in its conception and rigorous in its execution. We learn all about the islanders’ philosophy of property and time, their habits, their way of life, their economy . . . everything. And it all coheres in an immensely satisfying way. Eventually you come to see that the book is an exploration into what language is, how it works, what it is for, the gap between it and objects, as well as an exploration of who we are and what we are doing here.

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Just because this blog is a multi-lingual center, I wanted to mention that Operation Paperback, which tells you how to send books to our troops in combat zones, is eager for some Spanish language books to go out. Nice for our soldiers over the holidays….

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