Camels and elephants and fakirs, oh my!

I haven’t read enough Michael Chabon to count him among my favorite authors, but I do hold him in fairly high regard, ever since I read The Amazing Adventures and Kavalier and Clay some years back. (Way back, it turns out; I blogged about the book during this blog’s infant months, in July of 2002. Wow.) I’ve read a few of his short stories and admired them greatly, and I’ve enjoyed some of his essays and…that’s about it. Chabon’s one of those authors who is pretty much permanently on my “Hmmm, I need to read him more” list. (I’ve owned a copy of Summerland for four years now and not got round to reading it. Maybe when I finish the book I’m reading now.)

Anyhow, I recently read Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure. This is a straight-forward adventure story that was apparently originally published in serial form (in the New York Times Magazine). While the jacket copy cites influences such as Dumas and Fritz Leiber, I found it a bit reminiscent myself of Rudyard Kipling, albeit not of the “Competent Brit against the heathen hordes” variety. Our heroes are two Jewish rogues, a thin taciturn fellow named Zelikman and a more gregarious — and large — man named Amram. These two have been together for some time, traveling the roads of tenth century Asia, when they are somehow pressed into the service of escorting a prince of the Khazar Empire, who intends to return home and retake his rightful throne from a usurper. Clearly, Zelikman and Amram are more interested in simply escorting the prince wherever, getting paid, and leaving, but in the grand tradition of all such rogues, they are pulled into the rebellion, whether they like it or not.

The book is pretty light reading, and it’s pleasantly brief; after a steady diet lately of big thick novels, be they SF or fantasy, it was nice to be able to toss off a nice, short and sweet adventure yarn that is still written by one of the best writers working today. Chabon’s prose here feels slightly antiquated, which is perfectly in keeping with the kind of story he’s telling here, and the characters still manage to leap off the page to a good degree. I also enjoyed the clever chapter titles, such as “On the Observance of the Fourth Commandment Among Horse Thieves” and “On the Melancholy Duty of Soldiers to Contend with the Messes Left by Kings”.

Perhaps the best summation of Gentlemen of the Road is provided by Chabon himself, in the first sentence of his Afterword: “The original — and in my heart the true — title of the short novel you hold in your hands was Jews with Swords.” That, in its wonderfully odd way, says it all. Recommended.

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One Response to Camels and elephants and fakirs, oh my!

  1. Mimi says:

    I wanted more historical fiction aspect, but it was pleasant. I didn't love it.

    I have "Kavalier and Clay" in my TBR pile.

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