three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
user_rating: 
0

A Tale of Adventure

A-Gentlemen of the RoadIn the 10th-century kingdom of Arran, flanked by the Black and the Caspian seas in the Caucasus, two Jewish swords-for-hire-the young Zelikman, a European physician, poet, and con man, and the older Amram, an Ethiopian soldier of the Byzantine Empire who claims to be descended from the Queen of Sheba-travel the Silk Road, bilking and conning merchants and fellow travelers out of their money. When they meet Faliq, a young man who claims to be the rightful heir to the Jewish kingdom of Khazaria, they embark on a whirlwind quest to raise an army, march on the capitol city of Atil, and seize the throne from its evil usurper. As their plans start to unfold, they uncover a startling secret along the way.
Del Rey. 224 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 0345501748

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"There's a great deal of smart and sophisticated enjoyment to be had from Gentlemen of the Road-and more. ... Like his last book, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which used the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story to imagine an alternative Zionist future in which the Jewish state was located in Alaska, Gentlemen of the Road is part of a fictive meditation on Jewish identity and popular artistic culture." Tim Rutten

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As might be expected from this sort of storytelling, virtually every chapter introduces a new setting and characters. And although 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

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Michael Chabon's short new novel, Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure, 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." Julie Foster

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Chabon joyfully leaves readers out on the limb, tossing out a vocabulary of Beks and Buljans (Who? What?), but throws a lifeline by creating flawed and lovely characters with 21st-century resonance. ... Although not as accessible as Chabon's modern-day stories, the gentleness of the gentlemen of the road is classic Chabon." Stuart Eskenazi

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The pulp-averse, the history-challenged, the Khazar-illiterate might feel at a disadvantage without a glossary of 10th-century terms. ... 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." Mameve Medwed

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"It's tiny 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." Mark Harris

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 1.5 of 5 Stars
"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. ... Gentlemen of the Road has few similarly scrumptious morsels, and short as one's travels through it are, I was ready for mine to end before I reached the finish line." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

Gentlemen of the Road, compared by the New York Times Book Review to "the stories found in 19th-century dime novels and the fantastic escapades invented by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard," was first published in serial form in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Critics quickly pointed out the telltale signs of the multiple-installment format: new characters, settings, and plot twists in every chapter, which result in a fast, sometimes confusing, pace. Chabon's lush, memorable prose shines here despite the obscurity of some of his language. A few critics complained of uninteresting characters and outlandish scenarios, while most complimented the charming illustrations by Gary Gianni. This 21st-century spin on the old-fashioned adventure tale won't be to everyone's taste, but adventurous readers wishing to experience Chabon's amazing literary range are in for a thrilling, outrageous joyride.