Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road

by Michael Chabon

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Overview

#1 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

“A picaresque, swashbuckling adventure.”—The Washington Post Book World

They’re an odd pair, to be sure: pale, rail-thin, black-clad Zelikman, a moody, itinerant physician fond of jaunty headgear, and ex-soldier Amram, a gray-haired giant of a man as quick with a razor-tongued witticism as with a sharpened battle-ax. Brothers under the skin, comrades in arms, they make their rootless way through the Caucasus Mountains, circa a.d. 950, living as they please and surviving however they can—as blades and thieves for hire and as practiced bamboozlers, cheerfully separating the gullible from their money. But when they are dragooned into service as escorts and defenders to a prince of the Khazar Empire, they soon find themselves the half-willing generals in a full-scale revolution—on a road paved with warriors and whores, evil emperors and extraordinary elephants, secrets, swordplay, and such stuff as the grandest adventures are made of.

Praise for Gentlemen of the Road

“Within a few pages I was happily tangled in [Chabon’s] net of finely filigreed language, seduced by an old-school-style swashbuckling quest . . . laced with surprises and humor.”San Francisco Chronicle

“[Chabon] is probably the premiere prose stylist—the Updike—of his generation.”Time

“The action is intricate and exuberant. . . . It’s hard to resist its gathering momentum, not to mention the sheer headlong pleasure of Chabon’s language.”The New York Times Book Review

“[A] wild, wild adventure . . . abounds with lush language . . . This book roars to be read aloud.”Chicago Sun-Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307495655
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/18/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 268,251
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Michael Chabon is the author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Wonder Boys, which was made into a critically acclaimed film; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize; The Final Solution: A Story of Detection; and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. He is also the author of two short-story collections and a young adult novel, Summerland. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Hometown:

Berkeley, California

Date of Birth:

May 24, 1963

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.

Education:

B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University of California at Irvine

Read an Excerpt

Gentlemen of the Road

A Tale of Adventure
By Michael Chabon

Del Rey

Copyright © 2007 Michael Chabon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345501745

Chapter One

On Discord Arising from the Excessive Love of a Hat

For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve. Engrossed in the study of a small ivory shatranj board with pieces of ebony and horn, and in the stew of chickpeas, carrots, dried lemons and mutton for which the caravansary was renowned, the African held the place nearest the fire, his broad back to the bird, with a view of the doors and the window with its shutters thrown open to the blue dusk. On this temperate autumn evening in the kingdom of Arran in the eastern foothills of the Caucasus, it was only the two natives of burning jungles, the African and the myna, who sought to warm their bones. The precise origin of the African remained a mystery. In his quilted gray bambakion with its frayed hood, worn over a ragged white tunic, there was a hint of former service in the armies of Byzantium, while the brass eyelets on the straps of his buskins suggested a sojourn in the West. No one had hazarded to discover whether the speech ofthe known empires, khanates, emirates, hordes and kingdoms was intelligible to him. With his skin that was lustrous as the tarnish on a copper kettle, and his eyes womanly as a camel’s, and his shining pate with its ruff of wool whose silver hue implied a seniority attained only by the most hardened men, and above all with the air of stillness that trumpeted his murderous nature to all but the greenest travelers on this minor spur of the Silk Road, the African appeared neither to invite nor to promise to tolerate questions. Among the travelers at the caravansary there was a moment of admiration, therefore, for the bird’s temerity when it seemed to declare, in its excellent Greek, that the African consumed his food in just the carrion-scarfing way one might expect of the bastard offspring of a bald-pated vulture and a Barbary ape.

For a moment after the insult was hurled, the African went on eating, without looking up from the shatranj board, indeed without seeming to have heard the remark at all. Then, before anyone quite understood that calumny so fine went beyond the powers even of the myna, and that the bird was innocent, this once, of slander, the African reached his left hand into his right buskin and, in a continuous gesture as fluid and unbroken as that by which a falconer looses his fatal darling into the sky, produced a shard of bright Arab steel, its crude hilt swaddled in strips of hide, and sent it hunting across the benches.

Neither the beardless stripling who was sitting just to the right of its victim, nor the one-eyed mahout who was the stripling’s companion, would ever forget the dagger’s keening as it stung the air. With the sound of a letter being sliced open by an impatient hand, it tore through the crown of the wide-brimmed black hat worn by the victim, a fair-haired scarecrow from some fogbound land who had ridden in, that afternoon, on the Tiflis road. He was a slight, thin-shanked fellow, gloomy of countenance, white as tallow, his hair falling in two golden curtains on either side of his long face. There was a rattling twang like that of an arrow striking a tree. The hat flew off the scarecrow’s head as if registering his surprise and stuck to a post of the daub wall behind him as he let loose an outlandish syllable in the rheumy jargon of his homeland.

In the fireplace a glowing castle of embers subsided to ash. The mahout heard the iron ticking of a kettle on the boil in the kitchen. The benches squeaked, and travelers spat in anticipation of a fight.

The Frankish scarecrow slipped out from under his impaled hat and unfolded himself one limb at a time, running his fingers along the parting in his yellow hair. He looked from the African to the hat and back. His cloak, trousers, hose and boots were all black, in sharp contrast with the pallor of his soft hands and the glints of golden whisker on his chin and cheeks, and if he was not a priest, then he must, thought the mahout, for whom a knowledge of men was a necessary corollary to an understanding of elephants, be a physician or an exegete of moldering texts. The Frank folded his arms over his bony chest and stood taking the African’s measure along the rule of his bony nose. He wore an arch smile and held his head at an angle meant to signify a weary half-amusement like that which plagued a philosophical man when he contemplated this vain human show. But it was apparent to the old mahout even with his one eye that the scarecrow was furious over the injury to his hat. His funereal clothes were of rich stuff, free of travel stains, suggesting that he maintained their appearance, and his own, with fierce determination.

The Frank reached two long fingers and a thumb into the wound in his hat, grimaced and with difficulty jerked out the dagger from the post. He turned the freed hat in his hands, suppressing the urge to stroke it, it seemed to the mahout, the way he himself would stroke the stubbled croup of a beloved dam as she expired. With an air of incalculable gravity, as if confiding the icon of a household god, the Frank passed the hat to the stripling and carried the dagger across the room to the African, who had long since returned to his bowl of stew.

“I believe, sir,” the Frank informed the African, speaking again in good Byzantine Greek, “that you have mislaid the implement required for the cleaning of your hooves.” The Frank jabbed the point of the dagger down into the table beside the shatranj board, jostling the pieces. “If I am mistaken as to the actual nature of your lower extremities, I beg you to join me in the courtyard of this house, at your leisure but preferably soon, so that, with the pedagogical instrument of your choice, you may educate me.”

The Frank waited. The one-eyed mahout and the stripling, wondering, waited. By the door to the inn yard, where the ostler leaned, whispered odds were laid and taken, and the mahout heard the clink of coins and the squeak of a chalk wielded by the ostler, a Svan who disdained the distinction between turning a profit from seeing to the comfort of his guests and that of turning one from watching them die.

“I’m sorry to report,” the African said, rising to his feet, his head brushing the beams of the sloping roof, speaking in the lilting, bastardized Greek used among the mercenary legions of the emperor at Constantinople, “that my hearing shares in the general decay of the broken-down black-assed old wreck you see before you.”

The African yanked the shard of Arab steel from the table and with it went in search of the Frank’s voice box, ending his quest no farther from the pale knuckle of the Frank’s throat than the width of the blade itself. The Frank fell back, bumping into a pair of Armenian wool factors at whom he glared as if it were some clumsiness of theirs and not his cowardly instinct for self-preservation that had cost him his footing.

“But I take your gist,” the African said, returning the dagger to his boot. On the ostler’s slate the odds began to run heavily against the Frank.

The African restored the shatranj board and pieces to a leather pouch, wiped his lips and then pushed past the Frank, past the craning heads along the benches and went out into the inn yard to kill or be killed by his insulter. As the men trooped after him into the torch-lit courtyard, carrying cups of wine, wiping their bearded chins on their forearms, the weapons belonging to the combatants were fetched from a rack in the stable.

If because of his immensity, the span of his arms and his homicidal air, and despite his protestations of senescence, which were universally regarded as gamesmanship, the betting had been inclined to favor the African before the weapons were fetched, the arming of the two men decided it. The Frank carried only a long, absurdly thin bodkin that might serve, in a pinch, to roast a couple of birds over an open fire, if they were not too plump. The travelers had a good laugh at “the tailor with his needle” and then pondered the mystery of the African’s choice of sidearm, a huge Viking ax, its haft an orgy of interpenetrating runes, the quarter-moon of its blade glowing cold, as with satisfied recollection of all the heads it had ever lopped from spouting necks.

Under the full moon of the month of Mehr, with the torches hissing, the African and the Frank circled an ambit of packed earth. The Frank minced and scissored on his walking-stick legs, the tip of his bodkin indicating the heart of the African, glancing from time to time at his own fine black boots as they threaded a course through the archipelago of camel and horse turds. The African employed an odd crabwise scuttling style of circling, knees bent, eyes fixed on the Frank, the ax held loosely in his left fist. The awkward, almost fond way they went about readying themselves to murder each other moved the old mahout, who had trained a thousand war elephants to kill and so recognized the professional quality of the interest these two combatants were taking in the fight. But the other travelers jostling under the eaves and archways of the inn yard, who knew nothing of the intimacy of slaughter, grew impatient. They jeered the combatants, urging them to hurry so they could all finish their suppers and file off to bed. Half-maddened by boredom, they doubled their wagers. Word of the duel had reached the village down the hill, and the gate of the inn yard was lively with women, children and sad-faced lean men with heroic moustaches. Boys climbed to the roof of the inn, shook their fists and hooted as the Frank and the African emptied their heads of last regrets.

Then the ax, humming, seemed to drag the African toward the belly of the Frank. Its blade caught the torchlight and scrawled an arcing rune of fire in the gloom. The Frankish scarecrow dodged, and watched, and ducked when the ax came looking for his head. He dropped to his shoulder, rolled on the ground, surprisingly adroit for a scatter-limbed scarecrow, and popped up behind the African, kicking him in the buttocks with a look on his face of such childish solemnity that the spectators again burst into laughter.

It was a contest of stamina against agility, and those who had their money on the former began with confidence in the favorite and his big Varangian ax, but the African, angered, grew gross and undiscerning in his ax-play. He shattered a huge clay jar full of rainwater, soaking a dozen outraged travelers. He splintered the wheel spokes of a hay wagon, and as the solemn Frank danced, rolled and thrust with his slender bodkin, the berserker ax bit flagstones, shedding handfuls of sparks.

The torches guttered, and the tinge of blood drained from the moon as it rose into the night sky. A boy watching the fracas from the roof leaned too far out, tumbled and broke his arm. Wine was fetched, mixed with clean water from the well and handed in bowls to the duelists, who staggered and reeled around the inn yard now, bleeding from a dozen cuts.

Then tossing aside the wine bowls, they faced each other. The watchful mahout caught a flicker in the giant African’s eyes that was not torchlight. Once more the ax dragged the African like a charger trailing a dead cavalryman by the heel. The Frank tottered backward, and then as the African heaved past he drove the square toe of his left boot into the African’s groin. All the men in the inn yard squirmed in half-willing sympathy as the African collapsed in silence onto his stomach. The Frank slid his preposterous sword into the African’s side and yanked it out again. After thrashing for a few instants, the African lay still, as his dark–though not, someone determined, black–blood muddied the ground.

The ostler signaled to a pair of grooms, and with difficulty they dragged the dead giant out to a disused stable beyond the present walls of the caravansary and threw an old camel skin over him.
The Frank straightened his cuffs and hose and reentered the caravansary, declining to accept the congratulations or good-natured japery of the losing bettors. He declined to take a drink too, and indeed melancholy seemed to overcome him in the wake of the fight, or perhaps his natural inclinations toward Northern gloom merely resumed their reign over his heart and face. He chewed his stew and took his leave. He wandered down to the stream behind the caravansary to wash his hands and face, then slipped into the derelict stable, doffing his ruined hat as if in tribute to the bravery of his opponent.

“How much?” he said as he entered the stable.

“Seventy,” the giant African replied, stringing the laces of his felt bambakion, its counterfeit bloodstains washed away in a horse trough, to the horn of his saddle. He rode a red-spotted Parthian, tall and thick-muscled, whose name was Porphyrogene. “Enough for a dozen fine new black hats for you when we get to Rhages.”

“Don’t even say the word ‘hat,’ I beg you,” the Frank said, gazing down at the hole in the high crown. “It saddens me.”

“Admit it was a fine throw.”

“Not half so fine as this hat,” the Frank said. He laid the hat aside and opened his shirt, revealing a bright laceration that ran, beaded with waxy drips of blood, across his abdomen. Flows of blood swagged his hollow belly. He looked away and gritted his teeth as the African dabbed at him with a rag, then applied a thick black paste taken from a pot that the Frank carried in his saddlebags. “I loved that hat almost as much as I love Hillel.”

At that moment the animal in question, a woolly stallion with a Roman nose and its neck a rampant arch, stubby-legged and broad in the croup, the product of some unsupervised tryst between an Arabian and a wild tarpan, gave a warning snort, and there was a scrape of leather sole against straw.

The Frank and the living African turned to the door. Expecting the ostler, thought the old elephant trainer, with their share of the take, which included four of the mahout’s own hard-won dirhams.
“You mendacious sons of bitches,” the mahout said admiringly, reaching for the hilt of his sword.

Continues...

Excerpted from Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon Copyright © 2007 by Michael Chabon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Gentlemen of the Road 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Imagine C.S. Lewis' 'A Horse and His Boy' in which the horse does not talk and there is no underlying Christian allegory and you have 'Gentlemen of the Road'. I don't know if this was a labor of love for Mr. Chabon, who clearly has an affinity for adventure stories but it felt as if this were an extended writing exercise. Or perhaps it's a trial balloon for potential series with these characters. The story is engaging, the plot well constructed with late twists slyly foreshadowed earlier but with flatter characters than we might expect from this author. At times the prose (and vocabulary) is as showy as Mr. Chabon's 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' but with much less grace, evocative imagery or humor. In 'Gentlemen of the Road' it feels forced and obvious. And for God's sake would someone remove the comma key from his keyboard. Some sentences, often ones containing key plot points or moments of action, grow so long, twisted by various asides commenting on the color of the curtains in the background, that one must stop for a moment to reread phrases and make certain they have gathered all the information before haltingly proceeding, much like a car advancing down a city street with dozens of ill-sequenced stoplights, instead of taking the reader headlong through a paragraph, which is what one would expect from an adventure novella....if you get my drift.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Gentlemen of the Road in this medieval adventure story are an odd couple of Jewish soldiers of fortune ¿ a smallish Frank with some medical knowledge and a large Abyssinian with a tragic loss in his past. Following a chance encounter at an inn, the pair end up with a young Khazar prince in their charge. They have been commissioned to escort the prince, who has survived an attack on his family's home, to safety with relatives. However, the young prince would rather pursue the attackers and avenge the destruction of his home and family. The adventures that follow require as much wit as physical strength. There are plenty of surprises in store for the pair as they discover more about the young stranger whose fate has become entwined with their own.This pairing of characters and setting is unusual, but it works. The audio version was a little difficult to follow because of the unusual vocabulary of the time period and geographic setting. However, actor Andre Braugher's narration was as good as I had hoped it would be, and it was worth the extra effort required for listening to this tale.
mikeandmelinda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gentlemen of the Road is Michael Chabon's attempt to write an old-fashioned adventure tale. The story follows a pair of friends, one a Frankish Jew and the other an African, as they get sidetracked on their travels to help restore a young prince to the throne that had belonged to his deposed father. Although the book lives up to Chabon's goal of being a fun adventure at times, the book had a tendency to get too wordy at times, which slowed the plot down a bit too much. Overall, this was a good read, but I wish it had been a little more fun.
PghDragonMan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Chabon weaves a great story in Gentlemen of the Road. The opening scenes, while somewhat reminiscent of the classic James Garner / Louis Gossett movie, Skin Game, takes place in a much earlier time and ends up playing a minor role in the tale that unfolds. It does set the tone as a theme for the novel, however, as there is enough deception and identity confusion worthy of a classic Shakespeare comedy.Given the historic setting and the battle scenes, this is hardly an outright comedy. Chabon introduces enough light elements in a masterful way sp you can enjoy the comic relief, yet no lose sight of the severity of the story. If the author is uneven about anything, it is his treatment of minor characters. Secondary characters are not as well developed as the main characters are, we know just enough about them to allow them to do their job, but this is well within reason. If these characters had been flesh out more completely, the story would have been bloated. This slim little book proves once again, as the author did with The Final Solution, great books do not have to be heavy tomes and Chabon demonstrates elegantly that fewer well chosen words is preferable to many words that do not really add anything to the story.This is not a fantasy story but it may appeal to readers of that genre as the setting of the story is in a long ago, far away land. Adventure story lovers should enjoy this as well as the entire story is of a grand adventure to restore a rightful ruler to the kingdom. This is worthy of a good solid four star rating.
BMcknight on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chabon's successful take on the swashbuckling genre, in the manner of Robert E. Howard, follows two 10th century Jews (one from Abyssinia and one from Francia) and their adventures along the Silk Road as they seek to unseat an upstart from the Khazar throne and enrich themselves in the process.
kellymaliawilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Swashbukling story of comrades in arms set in the Caucasus Mountains in the 10th century - Rich prose and engaging characters make this a spirited read
KimLarae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully executed adventure tale. Can be read in one big gulp.
Gwendydd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As ever, Chabon's writing is an absolute delight to read, and there are moments of the book that are wonderful and funny. The story as a whole, however, is rather weak. It's a little difficult to follow the plot, because there are lots of weird political factions and customs involved, and a lot of exotic characters to keep straight. The book was entertaining, but not particularly memorable: it's an adventure story, and that's really all I can say for it.
pwoodford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A friend participated in the National Geographic's human genomic project. He sent in his DNA and got back a description of how his early ancestors migrated from Africa to the Middle East, became the Jews, migrated on to Russia and Eastern Europe, and eventually on to today, a widely dispersed tribe of modern Jews and Christians. I imagine I'm part of the same tribe, and plan to send in my DNA to find out for sure. This is a rather spare snapshot of some of those ancestors at a brief moment in the 10th Century; it is about, in Michael Chabon's own words, Jews with swords. A damn good story in the sense that the Book of Job is a damn good story. More novella than novel, not a story you can lose yourself in . . . more like a fleshed-out Old Testament tale.
BillyPan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another genre exercise by MC, but this one's much more successful than Final Solution. The serial, episodic structure of the narrative, combined with the slightly archaic language made this an old-fashioned delight, though one with a decidedly literary flavor and flair. As an action/adventure yarn, it's a real page-turner, while at the same time we get to revel in (and want to re-read) the richness of his words. Very rewarding. Highly recommended.
nlou on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A comic book (felt like the old Conan ones) without the comics.
ZoharLaor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book tells the tale of two wandering Jew, conmen and bandits who jestingly call themselves "Gentlemen of the Road". Zelikman - a white, thin and blond surgeon who carries a thin, sharp ,oversized bloodletting instrument as a sword, using his academic knowledge to his enemies misfortune and who is traumatized from watching his family slaughtered during the pogrom. Amaram - a black, muscular ex-solider who wields an ax named "Defiler of Your Mother", who is still searching for his daughter that disappeared without giving up hope. The adventures of this odd pair takes place sometime in the 10th Century when the two partners are collecting the money from a con they just pulled (a fake fight between the meek Frank with his needle and the huge ax wielding ex-solider) when they encounter a young man who claims to be the heir to the throne of the Jewish kingdom of Khazria, usurped by his brutal uncle. This is a wonderful serial novel, in the best tradition of Alexander Dumas and the old time pulp written in a stylized language which I loved and sprinkled with obscure words, archaic references and a solid sense of humor. How can you not love a book which has the following passage: "Zelikman executed the difficult maneuver of mounting a horse at full gallop. To outside observes, of this desolate slope, very few, he must have looked as if he were trying to mount Hillel's saddle so much as to perform some foul outrage upon his neck." All of it which adds to the charm of this wonderful, albeit short novel with lots of twists and cliff hangers aplenty. This book of swashbuckling adventure is meant to be read and enjoyed - it does not delve into the depths of human psyche and is not weighed down by dramatic themes - it is just a pleasure to sit back and let your imagination loose as you go on an exotic quest of impossible odds with the "Gentlemen".
jessicakiang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very slight novel, one you can easily read in a day, and while Chabon's language is as lovely as ever, it all vanishes in a puff of whimsy as soon as you finish reading it. Still, when the confection tastes this delicious going down, why complain that there's no nutritional content?
thornton37814 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps the best description of this story is that it is a land-based adventure story set in the Middle Ages in Azerbaijan. It is reminiscent of pirate adventures except that the only time the sea is in the picture is when the group goes to a seaside town which is being raided by the Northmen. It's not the usual type of novel that I read, but I did enjoy Chabon's command of language in describing the action and surroundings.
Kirconnell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My first Chabon and a bit of a disappointment. Yes, his writing is gracious, but adventure doesn't seem to be the best genre for him. It came off a bit stilted to me and the characters aren't as "alive" as they should be. Too bad, but maybe I will be happier the next time that I read one of Chabon's books.
mojacobs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this little book, Chabon once again creates and peoples a whole new world - nobody can accuse him of a lack of imagination or effort, it's completely different from his previous books. But it stays a little book , a quick read. With hefty tomes like Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, he probably needs to write something like this in between, like a sorbet in the middle of a heavy meal, perhaps, to clean the palate and prepare for what is yet to come. Three stars: I liked it - but not terribly much.¿
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A short, fun, colorful tale of two adventurers as they knock about the Caucasus region around 1000 AD. The language is suitably flowery and poetic, the descriptions are delightful, and the characters feel real. Besides, how could anybody miss a book with the working title "Jews with Swords"?
EssFair on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel¿an adventure story¿is very different from The Yiddish Policemen¿s Union. The questions prompted by the first sentence will draw most readers in immediately¿where is a caravansary located, how did it end up with a myna that knows how to swear in 10 languages, who is the African, and why would somebody voluntarily prod him into a fight? The author creates a number of memorable characters¿two swords for hire¿one Frankish, one African, both Jewish, one who prefers not to kill people¿a deposed heir to a throne who want to regain his kingdom, a war elephant who knows how to separate friend from foe, and a nasty villain who enjoys spending time with his wife and kids. An enjoyable read.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read my first Michael Chabon book, Gentlemen of the Road, for my "new to you" author. I have been intrigued by Chabon's work after reading an article he wrote for the NYT. I later discovered that his work made several notable lists and won a Pulitzer Prize, which piqued my curiousity even more.You may wonder why I didnt start with his more "notable" books, such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I chose to start with Gentlemen of the Road because of its mixed reviews, knowing that Chabon fans determined this to not be his best work, and figuring if I liked Gentlemen enough, I would find his other books totally gripping.All in all, Gentlemen of the Road is a good, average book. It didn't knock my socks off, but I found Chabon's storytelling and characters to be very engaging. It's the story of Zelikman, a Jewish physician who is moody and fond of black attire, and his traveling companion, Amram, an African warrior whose enormous frame and axe made him both feared and admired. Their adventures, dated from 950 A.D., were spontaneous and beguiling. They attached themselves to an army defending the Khazar Empire - at many time wondering why they are even fighting for this cause - and used their wit and intellect to advance the causes of Faliq, the banished prince of the Khazars. It was a short story - a high adventure that I feel will make a great movie starring Christian Bale as Zelikman and Michael Clarke Duncan as Amram. At least, that's who I pictured as I read the adventures of the Gentlemen of the Road.Despite my lukewarn response to Gentlemen of the Road, my interest in the storytelling of Michael Chabon is even more piqued, and with Kavalier and Clay and Yiddish Policemen sitting on my shelf, earmarked for challenges already, I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this talented author.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Meh. I usually love Chabon. And there's nothing really wrong that I can put my finger on with this book. It just wasn't what I was in the mood for, I guess. I actually liked the afterword better than the story itself. Don't want to slam the book though as I'm sure there will be many who love it. Just not me this time around. Still, I'll be first in line for Chabon's next hardback....
mschaefer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disappointing; writing is overblown, the storyline has its moments, but not enough.
railarson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Since he left the smoky environs of Pittsburg behind, transplanted Berkeley author Michael Chabon has evolved into quite a chameleon¿trying out genres in the same way the rest of us might try on hats. His last major novel, The Yiddish Policemen¿s Union, was all about the fedora. With Gentlemen of the Road, Chabon was looking for something a little more ¿ exotic.With a scant page count of 200-and-change, Gentlemen is no more than a palate cleanser by Chabonian standards. Its brevity does give the book a momentum that carries its relatively thin conceit forward, whereas a heavier tome may have collapsed under its own weight. Chabon¿s inspiration for the story was outlined in his working title for the book: Jews with Swords.With Gentlemen, Chabon shoots for an adventure in the old-school style of Robert Lewis Stevenson or Burroughs (Edgar Rice, that is¿decidedly not William S. or Augusten). The wonderfully rendered illustrations by Prince Valiant artist Gary Gianni help make that classic connection. His depiction of the gaunt, chapeau-obsessed Zelikman with his sword-sized surgical tool (since Jews, by Frankish law, weren¿t allowed to bear arms in 950), and his partner in crime¿the massive Abyssinian Amram and his ever-present Viking battle axe¿really took me back to the hours I spent lost in vintage editions of Treasure Island and Daniel Defoe¿s Robinson Crusoe that my grandmother had stashed in her basement.My only complaint with Gentlemen is that Chabon seems to writing by-the-numbers at times. Whereas I have often been flat-out amazed by his imaginative plot twists, this project seems satisfied to inhabit an exotic landscape and then defer to the dictates of genre. Unless, and I don¿t think this was hinted at, the spiritual leader of the Khazars foresaw the entire chain of events¿from the fall of the original leader, or bek, onward¿and orchestrated them to ensure ¿ well, you¿ll just have to read it yourself.All in all, an enjoyable summer romp, and it helps whet the appetite for whatever Chabon has next up his sleeve. Jews in Space? Astronauts do have cool hats.
emitnick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A unusually skinny book from the brilliant but often verbose Chabon. Two Jews, one an ex-soldier from Africa and one a very pale doctor from Europe, try to leave tragic pasts behind as they travel through the Caucasus Mountains in the 10th century. Loved this adventure story for its warm depiction of true friendship and loyalty between two oddballs. Plenty of wit and derring-do, and of course the writing is sublime.
Topper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Gentlemen of the Road" is a minor work--in his preface Chabon states that he's self-consciously trying something new, and it shows. The setting, the Caucasus region in the 9th century (or so), provides colorful historical detail to what the author intends to be an adventure novel. But Chabon seems to be writing more in the tradition of the fantasy genre, with all the swords but none of the sorcery. His characters have fantasy's requisite cliched backgrounds--both haunted by failure to protect their women from a fate worse than death--and in the dark they could pass for (among others of the fantasy genre) Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. The plot is also pretty rote--the two cynical characters become caught up in a rebellion and royal intrigue, unable to suppress their true, caring nature (like Han Solo). Such cliche is forgivable if the characters are saving the world, or if there is a cosmic mystery involved. But there are no consequences, personal or global, to the actions in this novel. There are a few redemptions, which is why I give it 3.5 stars. The setting is pretty interesting, and few historical novels of the setting feature an all-Jewish cast. The style is engaging with several laugh-out-loud passages. The illustrations are a nice touch. And the book is so short and quickly read that even if you don't like it you've hardly wasted any of your time.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Chabon has fallen a long way since the days of Wonder Boys and Kavalier and Clay. His latest novel, Gentlemen of the Road, is the story of two comically mismatched companions who wander the world as small-time hustlers. I was quickly drawn into the exotic midieval settings and touched by the main characters' friendship, but my fascination didn't last long. Writing style is the book's biggest downfall. Michael Chabon seems to think you can create atmosphere by writing sentences a paragraph long, so I often found myself tangled in a jumble of pronouns and clauses so impenetrable that I couldn't understand the plot (not that the plot seemed terribly worth understanding to begin with). The characters, who could have been the novel's strong point, are sadly neglected. With only 196 pages, Chabon really needed to cut down his cast; instead, he introduces a new character with every chapter, meaning that his main characters are ill-defined. I think this book might have been more successful if it had been twice as long. Then there might have been space to support the action-packed plot without sacrificing the character development that makes most of Chabon's work so moving. A few moments in the book made me wish for better editing and stronger writing, but as it is, I cannot find anything to recommend it.