Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure Paperback – 2008
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Paperback Pages Number: 224 Language: English Publisher: Random House. Book Description 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 imming with eathless 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...
Top Customer Reviews
To me, an adventure story needs to focus on the action and move rapidly. I want to find myself hanging over a cliff without first realizing that I'm barreling towards it. Otherwise, I don't feel like I'm in the adventure . . . but merely reading words about someone's idea of an adventure.
As a result, I wasn't pleased with the results of Michael Chabon's imaginative series of 15 short stories. I was spending more time studying the language than I was thinking about the story. It's like having a cake that's almost all icing. Why? For some reason, he chooses to use extremely long sentences ("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.") and many infrequently used words (the first chapter includes "shatranj," "bambakion," "buskins," "ostler," "bodkin," "runes," "Mehr," "Varangian," "caravansary," "japery," "Parthian," and "mendacious." Now I knew all but one of those words and could figure the other one out from context, but I doubt if most people would agree that those words added to the meaning of the story.
Building a tale from 15 short stories also makes the book choppy.Read more ›
If you love language...if you love adventure-writ-economical...if you believe that 'less is more'...then this novel is for you.
It's not for everyone. It is a sortakinda set-piece of muscular language; imagine if you will, Shakespeare writing a novella, and doing it with brevity in mind. It presumes that you're either familiar with many/most/the majority of arcane references...or you have the mental chops to connect the dots, to keep up with alacrity...while having a ball.
Having said that, as a screenwriter/novelist, part of my reaction to any book is, at the risk of infuriating literary purists, to ask the question 'Would it make a good movie?'
'Gentlemen of the Road' would make (in the right hands, with the right touch) a fantabulous film.
My fingers are now crossed.
But he goes over a thousand years into the past for "Gentlemen of the Road," an old-fashioned adventure story with some gloriously offbeat heroes. It's a fun, quirky read (the original, fitting title was "Jews With Swords"), with lots of unique twists but the prose gets a bit purple at times.
In caravans and on the road, the giant Abyssian Amram and gawky Frank Zelikman make money however they can -- even staging mock fights. After their ruse is found out by a weary mahout, he offers to take them on as bodyguards to a sullen young prince, Filaq. Then the mahout is murdered, and the two "Gentlemen of the Road" find themselves babysitting a snotty teen with a tendency to run away.
Unfortunately, the fortress they're heading for has been destroyed, and a gang of hired thugs kidnap Filaq. For no reason they can explain, Amram and Zelikman find themselves racing to rescue the kid, and beginning a quest full of checkered pasts, civil wars, ancient elephants... and the discovery that Filaq isn't quite who he seems to be.
There's something very classic about the flavour of "Gentlemen of the Road." Maybe it's because it was actually serialized in the New York Times Magazine, or maybe because Chabon apparently soaked up the works of Moorcock, Alexandre Dumas and Fritz Lieber. Think a Jewish version of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
"Gentlemen of the Road" does have one flaw -- Chabon's prose gets dense and purple at times, which sent me spinning right off the narrative.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Originally written in serial chapters published in the New York Times Magazine, the story follows the stylistic and narrative conventions of the old time pulp serials. And if you've never read any old adventure classics like H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quartermain stories, Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories, or Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories, then the heavily stylized form may throw you. Indeed, some reviewers have complained that the story is confusing and hard to follow, which frankly, baffles me. Like its literary ancestors, the plot is such that a 10-year-old could follow and recount it, so the conclusion I draw is that the genre itself is defeating some readers. Sure there are leaps of setting and time, a constant stream of new characters, and plot twists aplenty -- but it's hardly daunting stuff. Similarly, a lot of people seem put off by Chabon's use of archaic and obscure words, but that's exactly how a lot of those old adventure stories were written, and the gist of the meanings can be inferred from context in almost every case.
The story itself concerns a pair of 10th-century Jewish "gentlemen of the road" who drift around the civilized world getting by as mercenaries and grifters. Following the classic template, they are a study in opposites, one a hulking black Abyssinian, the other a reedy, pallid German. Neither fits the modern Western stereotype of what a Jew is, and that's very much part of Chabon's point. His writing has long tinkered with the notion of Jewish identity, and here it is taken to colorful but historically accurate extremes. They are classic rogues with hearts of gold (or at least silver), and the story finds them in the Khazar kingdom, a small Jewish land on the west of the Caspian Sea, resting uneasily between Christian and Muslim empires (today the area includes parts of Russia, the Ukraine, and most of the Caucuses). After a great introduction to the two heroes, the story properly kicks off when they find themselves in the company of a deposed prince. Adventure ensues as they try to help him get back home, which involves raising an army and dealing with marauding Vikings, before they even get to deal with the usurper. Violence, treachery, and humor abound, however, some of the material (rape and prostitution) is rather adult and parents should read the book before handing it over to children.
The book is nicely designed -- aside from the cover, which is a total flop (the British edition has a much more evocative cover which is a homage to classic adventure book covers). Each chapter features an illustration from legendary artist Gary Gianni, which help to set the mood and tone. A few of these feel rather hasty and unfinished compared with other work of his I've seen, but he nails the style just right. On the whole, this is a wonderful little entertainment from one of contemporary fiction's big guns, and while it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, it's at least worth trying.
Michael Chabon's "Gentlemen of the Road" is set in and around Khazaria during this time period. It is a good adventure; well-told and fast paced. The two gentlemen of the road are Zelikman and Amram. Zelikman, is young, thin, and pale. Originally from Regensburg in what is now Bavaria, Germany, Zelikman has broken with his family and wanders the trade routes of the Middle Ages looking for adventure. Amram is older and bigger. Originally from Africa, Amram wanders the trade routes looking for his daughter who was stolen from his village. They are traveling companions and occasional con-artists living off their wits and their fighting skills. Soon after the story opens, Zelikman and Amram unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a struggle for control of the Khazar Empire. They take custody of a young prince, Filaq, skinny and too young (apparently) to shave, but strong-headed and feisty. Filaq wants nothing more than to avenge the death of his father, the deposed ruler and restore his family to the throne. Amram and Zelikman, bickering all the way face one crisis after another as they travel closer to the capital of the Khazars where they and Filaq will meet their fate.
"Gentlemen of the Road" is a good adventure story. Originally serialized in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (in fifteen installments) each chapter ends with something of a cliff-hanger. Chabon does a nice job keeping the pot boiling and he also does a nice job of developing the back-story of Zelikman, Amram, and the other major characters. The story's biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the absence of any background information about the Kingdom of the Khazars. Any reader unfamiliar with the history of the Khazars is likely to be either surprised or puzzled at the various references to Jewish rulers (Khagans and Beks), expressions and practices that appear throughout the story. In an afterword to the book Chabon mentions that the original working title for "Gentlemen of the Road" was "Jews with Swords" but noted that it only seemed to make people laugh at the seeming incongruity of the title. While I understand Chabon's point in this regard I think the reaction he received to his working title underscores that importance of putting his adventure in some context, even if in an introduction or preface.
That said, "Gentlemen and the Road" is still a good story, written with style by someone in command of his craft. It is well worth reading at a solid 3.5 stars. L. Fleisig
There are two basic things that make this book a little better than your average adventure novel. The first is the historical setting, the steppes of Central Asia in the tenth century A.D. There are Khazars and Rabanites, elephants and marauding Rus, Jews and Muslims and a smattering of languages. As far as I'm aware no one has ever attempted to set a story in such a place, outside of Borodin's opera "Prince Igor". It's exotic enough to elicit a certain otherworldly excitement, but grounded in reality and history that keeps the romance from taking over entirely. Mr Chabon has done his research and rendered a complete world, believably populated by a variety of characters and cultures.
The second thing that makes this little book so worthwhile is the skill that Mr Chabon brings to its creation. He is known as a big-ticket bestselling literary author, and some people would say this sort of genre exercise is below him; however, it's precisely because he's got serious literary chops that he can pull off the plotting and style of "Gentlemen of the Road". He slips into the obscure words and old fashioned style with ease, and it's a pleasure to read every word of the book. Mr Chabon has not tried to turn a genre adventure into a literary tome; instead he's tried his damnedest to write the best adventure he can. And he succeeds: "Gentlemen of the Road" is a fun book, and it's easy to imagine seeing a sequel or three on the shelves at some point.
Mr Chabon has already come up with a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and a science fiction detective story. I for one am hoping that he keeps this up and even starts a trend among other "literary" writers.
- Interesting setting - I have never read a novel about the Khazar Kingdom, and I found it very interesting.
- Deep characters - Chabon's strength in the novel is his characterization. His characters of Amram and Zelikman are very lifelike and engaging, and fit together nicely, much like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.
- Chabon pays homage to the genre with his vivid prose, that creates a great image in the reader's imagination.
- The plot is very disjointed, and I felt that it skipped and rushed necessary parts of the story. In addition, there was little sense of suspense, which is necessary for this type of the novel. The plot twists were not well executed, and the book's ending is not very interesting.
Although Chabon is a very good writer, he does not have the skills for an adventure story. Although the characterizations are important, what is most important for an adventure novel is a tight and well thought out plot. This novel left me feeling unsatisfied at the end, and I think that it could have benefited from further editing or elaboration. No way does it measure up to a true master of the genre like Rafael Sabatini, or Fritz Leiber and so I give it a 2/5.
Chabon, as noted, is an excellent writer and the characters in this novel are extremely well drawn and enjoyable to follow. The action, pace, and writing of the novel is quick, witty, and engaging. Frankly, in this case, Chabon takes a flawed novel and makes it enjoyable anyway with his characterization and pleasing prose style.
There are two flaws with this novel, however, that make it less than what it could have been. First, the story is set in an era that this reader knows little about so it was sometimes difficult to grasp the big picture of what was going on politically or geographically without some background information. The second, more serious flaw, is that the linkage between chapters or scenes were either missing or obscure, giving the flow of the book, especially in the later chapters, a disjointed feel. It almost read like a comic strip with stand alone chapters that didn't always make clear linkages to what went on before. Of course it all comes together eventually, but made the novel less enjoyable.
Overall, this was a pleasant novel to read, but somewhat disappointing at the same time.