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Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventureby Michael Chabon
Synopses & Reviews
Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, sprang from an early passion for the derring-do and larger-than-life heroes of classic comic books. Now, once more mining the rich past, Chabon summons the rollicking spirit of legendary adventures — from The Arabian Nights to Alexandre Dumas to Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories — in a wonderful new novel brimming with breathless action, raucous humor, cliff-hanging suspense, and a cast of colorful characters worthy of Scheherazade's most tantalizing tales.
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 he is 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. No strangers to tight scrapes and close shaves, they've left many a fist shaking in their dust, tasted their share of enemy steel, and made good any number of hasty exits under hostile circumstances.
None of which has necessarily prepared them to be dragooned into service as escorts and defenders to a prince of the Khazar Empire. Usurped by his brutal uncle, the callow and decidedly ill-tempered young royal burns to reclaim his rightful throne. But doing so will demand wicked cunning, outrageous daring, and foolhardy bravado...not to mention an army. Zelikman and Amram can at least supply the former. But are these gentlemen of the road prepared to become generals in a full-scale revolution?
The only certainty is that getting there — along a path paved with warriors and whores, evil emperors and extraordinary elephants, secrets, swordplay, and such stuff as the grandest adventures are made of — will be much more than half the fun.
"Pulitzer Prize winner — Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) recreates 10th-century Khazaria, 'the fabled kingdom of wild red-haired Jews on the western shore of the Caspian Sea,' in this sprightly historical adventure. Zelikman and Amram, respectively a gawky Frank and a gigantic Abyssinian, make their living by means of confidence tricks, doctoring, bodyguarding and the occasional bit of skullduggery along the Silk Road. The unlikely duo find themselves caught up in larger events when they befriend Filaq, the headstrong and unlikable heir to the recently deposed war king of the Khazars. Their attempts to restore Filaq to the throne make for a terrifically entertaining modern pulp adventure replete with marauding armies, drunken Vikings, beautiful prostitutes, rampaging elephants and mildly telegraphed plot points that aren't as they seem. Chabon has a wonderful time writing intentionally purple prose and playing with conventions that were most popular in the days of Rudyard Kipling and Talbot Mundy. Gary Gianni's elegant illustrations, a cross between Vierge's art for Don Quixote and Brundage's Weird Tales covers, perfectly complement the historical adventure. A significant change from Chabon's weightier novels, this dazzling trifle is simply terrific fun." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Michael Chabon is forever changing gears as a writer. In this novel, serialized in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, he takes on 10th-century Khazaria, a Jewish kingdom between the Black and Caspian Seas, and creates a picaresque, swashbuckling adventure, each chapter charmingly illustrated by Gary Gianni. Though the original title was 'Jews with Swords,' the more measured 'Gentlemen... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of the Road' serves just fine. Chabon's highfalutin writing is an object lesson in style perfectly matched to genre. The number one gentleman, 'the Frankish scarecrow' Zelikman — swindler, doctor, poet, warrior, con man — hits the Silk Road with his sidekick, a giant African named Amram. This dynamic duo, as joined at the hip as Batman and Robin or Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, ends up in a fight for control of the empire of Khazaria. There they befriend Filaq, heir to the deposed king, a stripling swaddled in a bearskin who 'gave off an aroma, more powerful than that of horse dung or cheese or one-eyed Persians, of money.' While hardly resistant to the seductions of money, the two don't take on Filaq's cause for mere fortune alone. Zelikman longs to see 'the fabled kingdom of wild red-haired Jews on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.' Their perilous attempts to reach that city and restore Filaq to the throne result in battles galore, lives saved and lost, encounters with beks, a Khagan, Hillel the horse, Cunegunde the elephant, a ruffian called Hanukkah, mercenaries, tearful cavalrymen, Northmen who are 'slaves to their appetites' and a quest for the perfect hat. If any good adventure is all about the journey, there is also, as Amram remarks, 'an appeal in the idea of seeing some business through from start to finish.' And the lark Chabon has in getting there translates into a hoot for the reader. Still, such an arch, lickety-split odyssey won't be everyone's cuppa. The pulp-averse, the history-challenged, the Khazar-illiterate might feel at a disadvantage without a glossary of 10th-century terms. Not every reader will be willing to take all this on literary faith. Nevertheless, if you stick with this tale, you'll be rewarded with a slalom course's worth of twists, not to mention a suitable moral. 'All the evil in the world derives from the actions of men acting in a mass against other masses of men,' notes Zelikman, whose insight, thanks to his creator, never keeps him from brandishing his sword. Mameve Medwed's fifth novel, 'Of Men and their Mothers,' will be published in May." Reviewed by Mameve Medwed, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A]n ebullient yarn that blithely defies probability....Ridiculously entertaining. If the movie people don't snap this one up, somebody's asleep at the switch." Kirkus Reviews
"[Gentlemen of the Road] reeled me in. Within a few pages I was happily tangled in his net of finely filigreed language, seduced by an old-school-style swashbuckling quest complete with outlandish characters, and well, the smell of exotic places." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A]lthough the effect can be dizzying and the plot may twist a time or two too many, it's hard to resist its gathering momentum, not to mention the sheer headlong pleasure of Chabon's language." Susann Cokal, The New York Times Book Review
"Chabon has a humorous, acrobatic writing style that translates rather well to the adventure genre. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[T]iny but overstuffed, and like a battered piece of antique luggage covered with exotic stickers, it's more interesting for what it reveals about its owner's hunger to discover new places than for its actual contents. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Although not as accessible as Chabon's modern-day stories, the gentleness of the gentlemen of the road is classic Chabon. Perhaps he should journey even deeper into the past for his next work." Seattle Times
"It is both too much and not nearly enough. With rare exceptions — the delightful opening chapter comes to mind — this mass of details never coalesces into a coherent picture of a time and place, while the novel's characters remain as flat as the pages on which they appear." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This rollicking saga by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is set 1,000 years ago along the ancient Silk Road, and tells the tale of two wandering adventurers and unlikely soul mates.
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 and 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.
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