Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure

by Michael Chabon

Other authorsGary Gianni (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2007

Call number

FIC CHA

Collection

Publication

Del Rey (2007), Edition: 1, 204 pages

Description

A physician and an ex-soldier travel together making their way through the Caucasus Mountains, circa a.d. 950. They meet a prince of the Khazar Empire who was usurped by his uncle and he enlists their help to regain his throne.

Media reviews

The plot and voice of “Gentlemen of the Road” recall the stories found in 19th-century dime novels and the fantastic escapades invented by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard. Gary Gianni’s drawings highlight particularly thrilling moments, and with chapter titles like “On the Observance of the Fourth Commandment Among Horse Thieves” and “On Swimming to the Library at the Heart of the World,” Chabon works old-fashioned niceties into a postmodern pastiche.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon is a fun adventure story of two Jewish mercenaries (scoundrels/thieves) as they come into contact with a young prince of the Khazar Empire and help him in his quest to retake the throne and oust the usurper from it.

Involving Vikings, elephants, warriors and whores this is a rollicking, medieval tale that left me wanting more. I wanted to stay with these characters, Amram and Zelikman, as they continued on down the road and share with them in any new adventures.

Michael Chabon wrote this story in a style that reminded me of many of the adventure stories I read when young, by the likes of R.M. Ballantyne or Robert Louis Stevenson. Rather flowery, very descriptive, and requiring a dictionary, but the story moves quickly and I was soon caught up in the plot. For such a short book, less than 200 pages, Chabon packs in a lot of information, he also expects his readers to suspend our disbelief and accept a number of bizarre coincidences.

I never quite sank fully into the story, but still I recommend this book for it’s swashbuckling, captivating, page-turning story.
… (more)
LibraryThing member cestovatela
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member brianjungwi
Stating in his after word that the alternative title for this work was"Jews with Swords," you can get an idea of the playfulness the author had while writing this book. Michael Chabon came highly recommended by a variety of friends, and this slim novel caught my eye while perusing the shelves at my local book store. Having never read Chabon before, my impression was of a 'serious' novelist who utilized quirky titles, and with some trepidation I decided to purchase "Gentleman of the Road." I was pleasantly surprised with an incredibly well written and entertaining adventure tale set in an interesting historical period.
The book centers around the scare-crow figure of Zelikman and his physical opposite, the imposing Amram, who as partners and kindred spirits seek to make their fortune traveling the road. They con, they save a youth, they lead an army as Chabon creates a lively atmosphere set in the 10th century crossroads of the Caucus mountains. The characters are well-written and charismatic, and although the book is slim, make a strong impression throughout and remain memorable. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and while the plot unfolds like a pulp adventure novel, Chabon's mastery of the language is charming. By the end, I felt two things, a sense of wanderlust - wanting to travel, and a desire to read more. "Gentleman of the Road" is in the fine tradition of entertaining adventure novels and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
It's hard to rate this because it was stellar, lovely in every sentence and page, but also so very brief. I am astonished to see the page counts, and would like to see the wordcount sometime to convince myself it isn't a novella.

It's primarily an adventure story, and excels as such: like a good adventure story often does, it makes you care about the people as well as the plot. The classic idiosyncratic friendship of the gentlemen and their very different bonds with Filaq are well sketched and convincing. The novel briefly and vividly transports the reader to a very cosmopolitan past, an age and place not familiar to most readers in English. For this, for its philosophical flourishes, its beauty of line, its humor, its swashbuckling, and its elephants, I loved it.

Audiobook note: Andre Braugher did a good job, especially with the dry humor.
… (more)
LibraryThing member cabegley
Full disclosure: I love Michael Chabon. I would probably read a collection of his grocery lists. Also, I am a sucker for adventure stories--I think it has something to do with not having read them much as a kid, so now I'm trying to make up for lost time. I am particularly enamored of Dumas' novels, with their cliffhanger chapters born of the serial method of publication. So, while Chabon's latest novel, an adventure story originally published in serial form in the New York Times would appear to be tailor-made for me, your mileage may vary.

Set in 950 A.D., Gentlemen of the Road follows two Jewish mercenaries, Amram and Zelikman, in the Caucasus as they reluctantly get involved in a quest with a young noble, Filaq, whose family has been destroyed by the usurper to Filaq's father's throne. Chabon's working title for the novel was Jews with Swords, and religion (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian) and swordfighting play a significant part in the tale's events.

As with any good adventure story, to tell you more of the plot would be to ruin the fun of it. And I did have fun. This is not Chabon's best, and certainly not his deepest or most polished, work, but it is still an enjoyable read. He is true to the genre, while still putting his indelible stamp on the work.

Unless you are a true adventure fan, I wouldn't recommend Gentlemen of the Road as your first Chabon read (try The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay though!). But for adventure fans, or for those who are already fans of Michael Chabon, give Gentlemen of the Road a try. It's a quick, fun read, with great illustrations by Gary Gianni (the current artist for the Prince Valiant comic strip). The genre may be different, but the writing is pure Chabon--intricate sentences, 10c words sprinkled casually throughout, spot on descriptions. The book is fairly cinematic, and I suspect it will be translated to the screen before too long.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ZoharLaor
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".
… (more)
LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
I've not read any Michael Chabon before and I can understand why some would say this is the wrong place to start. Be that as it may, I absolutely enjoyed his take on a boy's own swords and sandals medieval adventure tale - somewhat reminiscent of Fritz Leiber or Michael Moorcock fantasy fare (he dedicates the book to Moorcock). The story is light, frothy and fun to read. What gives it that extra flavour is the wonderful setting - one rarely reads much fiction set in 10th century Central Asia, let alone one following the adventures of 2 Jewish swordsmen, one a mercenary from Abyssinia and the other a former medical student from France getting caught up in a succession struggle in the Jewish tribal kingdom of Khazaria. Highly entertaining!… (more)
LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: Zelikman is tall, pale, and a one-time physician; his partner Amram is a broad-shouldered giant ex-soldier. They travel together through the mountains of eastern Europe making a living as mercenaries, theives, and con-men. But the area between the Black and Caspian seas was a dangerous place in the tenth century, especially when the two men find themselves as somewhat unwilling escorts to a young man who claims to be the deposed prince of the Khazar Empire, and who has a plan to begin a revolution to reclaim his rightful place.

Review: One of my frequent complaints about so-called "literary fiction" is that too often it places a high value on fancy, self-indulgent language at the expense of actually telling a good story. Thus, one of the things I like best about Chabon is that he consistently manages to accomplish both.

Chabon's prose is undeniably fancy, and probably also a little self-indulgent. He is a huge fan of the long, twisty sentence, and for substantial sections of this book, I was discovering at least one new-to-me vocab word ever two pages. But the prose is meant to embellish the story rather than replace it, I don't mind him messing about with the language; on the contrary, I found myself reveling in it, and able to silence the little part of myself that was going "you could say that without the three-dollar words" and just let the rhythm of prose roll around in my mind. (On a correlated note, this has the potential to be a wonderful audiobook - there are passages that are just begging to be read aloud.)

But even better (to my mind, anyways) than the fancy prose was the story, which shone through even the most complicated sentence structure. This is a ripping adventure story, full of swords and horses and elephants and treachery and all sorts of fun stuff. (I mean heck, it made me bust out the adjective "ripping".) You can tell that Chabon had fun dreaming this story up, and I had fun reading it - not just for the adventure parts (which are as escapist as any "genre" fiction), but also because it's peppered with a bunch of snarkily funny bits throughout. I also really enjoyed the setting - I don't know that I've ever visited the geographical area nor the time period before in my reading, and I appreciated the fact that this book is largely historically accurate.

In short, I had a really good time reading this book. For the most part, it read surprisingly quickly given the density of some of its prose, although there were a few places where I felt like something important passed by a bit too quickly, especially for readers like me who are unfamiliar with the geopolitical landscape of the time. But overall, a very enjoyable read. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I think all fans of historical fiction and/or adventure stories will enjoy this one, but it might be best for readers who secretly want escapist genre fiction while maintaining the air of "literary-ness" afforded by Chabon's name on the cover.
… (more)
LibraryThing member maschine
Sceptre HC edition (ISBN 0340953543):

Simply a great old-style adventure story, originally called "Jews with Swords", in which Chabon matches nearly every cliche there ever was:
Two loveable jewish rogues, one a big jolly African armed with an axe called "Mother Defiler", the other a remote and depressed Frank who likes good hats and his horse, a brattish prince on the run, accompanied by an old guardian, swordfights, horsetheft, elephantriding...and vikings!
All this mixed up in a great adventure tale, wonderfully told by Chabon, supported by Gary Gianni's illustrations and an old adventure book-like design (no jacket, the picture is directly printed on the cover and even the bar code sticker has some ornaments on it).

Judging this book as an adventure novel, it's just that: a great and fun read.

5 of 5 perforated hats
… (more)
LibraryThing member EssFair
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Topper
"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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member emitnick
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member JACrobat
Instead of writing a book about a writer of adventure stories, Michael Chabon has eliminated one lens and written the adventure story himself. One might not expect the author who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to offer adventure apologetics, but an afterword included in Gentlemen of the Road (Random House, $21.95) does just that. As a fellow author who has described his own book as “just a little adventure story,” I must acknowledge my sympathies as a reviewer. While Chabon’s latest work is a genre departure from his previous award-winning oeuvre, it is no different in quality.

There is no difference in Chabon’s trademark unusual syntax, either; I had to re-read the first chapter in order to adjust to it. Once I had his adventurous syntax mapped out I was off on a fast-paced, nuanced, and entertaining tale, which I read in its entirety twice in a single week! Gentlemen of the Road relates just one of the many adventures shared by Amram, an axe-wielding Abyssinian, and Zelikman, a Frankish physician who treats as many wounds as he inflicts. As is wont to happen to gentlemen of the road, a chance encounter leaves in their charge Filaq, the sole survivor of a coup in Khazaria. The brash young heir wants to return home to seek vengeance, but Amram and Zelikman want only to deliver Filaq to an uncle’s keep and be on their way. Filaq’s obstinance, a Khazar death squad, and an invading Rus force intervene, altering their course and setting up multiple daring rescues and an armed confrontation with Buljan, the usurper who deprived Filaq of family, title, and more.

Finely illustrated by Gary Gianni and superbly written (including the most artistic, period-authentic anatomical description of my reading experience), Gentlemen of the Road is a can’t-miss adventure. It may not garner the accolades or the sales figures of Chabon’s previous two books, but it is more than mere artistic self-indulgence and certainly needs no apology.
… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member VGilvarry
I love a good adventure story and this one comes from the author of Wonder Boys, a beautifully crafted book and movie, which amongst other things has a rare but magical song that was written especially for it, created by Bob Dylan, a song that you'll fall in love with and want to watch and hear over and over again. This story is nothing like Wonder Boys at all. I read this novel in two sittings, a story of two seemingly incompatible misfits from another period in time, both quixotic and engaging characters in their own right. Michael Chabon has channelled the writing style of days gone by with wonderfully descriptive sentences which work in every way, full bodied and chunky with enough realism to make you believe that it really could have happened in some place in time. Check it out and tell me what you think.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member mschaefer
Disappointing; writing is overblown, the storyline has its moments, but not enough.
LibraryThing member stuart10er
A serialized novel dedicated to Michael Moorcock written as a cross between Fritz Leiber and the Count of Monte Cristo. Good, or at least an enjoyable story about two Jewish vagabonds in Central Asia around 900AD. The one missing thing that Chabon forgot (or ignored) is thta serials are usually quite long. The style requires many diversions and plot twists (read any Dumas lately?) which means it needs length. At 204 pages, give or take, he was just getting started when he had to wrap it up. An opportunity missed.… (more)
LibraryThing member bhowell
This is the first book I have read by Michael Chabon though I have 2 others in my library and on my list to read. I pulled the other books out and was delighted to discover that I have the first edition of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and a signed first of The Yiddish Policeman's Union.

Gentlemen of the Road was a charming and entertaining read and is aptly and simply called a tale of adventure. Think about a cross between the Three Musketeers and Salmon Rushdie's the Enchantress of Florence but in a much shortened and readable novella. The story does drag a bit from time to time but keep reading. This is a good story and has a great ending.

The illustrations were a lovely touch and indeed the whole format of the book is so attractive with the names of the chapters set out and the type face is perfect. I am a collector and I love the art of a pretty book, regardless of value.

The illustrations enhance the enjoyment of the story by providing pictures of the characters so that you can see them in your mind as they fight and run from one tight spot to another. This is particularly enjoyable with an historical adventure story and is a pleasure which we should not give over entirely to children. These illustrations by Gary Gianni are brilliant and art and literature combine to deliver the reading experince.

Many books written by the likes of Charles Dickens, Daniel Deronda, and Wilke Collins had sketches or line drawings in them but it is not very common now with adult literature. Perhaps that should change.
… (more)
LibraryThing member presto
Amram is a giant of a man, an African of uncertain origin, Zelikman, a Frank, tall and thin and as pale as Amram is dark; the two are travelling companions, gentlemen of the road. They make their way seeking opportunities, by cunning and deceit. Then they find themselves entrusted with the custody of Filqa, a youth who claims to be a deposed prince, and soon they are inevitably involved in helping the boy attempt to regain his kingdom.

Placed in the historical setting of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Khazaria (present day Ukraine) around the 10th century, it is a fascinating story with plenty of plot twists and more than a few surprises. But the real delight of the tale is Michael Chabon’s inimitable prose; Chabon is here clearly indulging himself in his most flamboyant and fluid mode, creating combinations of words that simply roll of the page. The result is witty, entertaining and often very funny and a pure pleasure to read. Perhaps the one casualty of Chabon’s extravagant writing is that occasionally the overall sense sometime becomes confused in the abundance of words, but that is a small price to pay for the overall enjoyment.

A departure from his more usual contemporary settings, the author himself admits in an interesting Afterword that he is on something of an adventure of his own with this book. He has certainly created yet another original and appealing work, this one beautifully illustrated with line drawings by Gary Gianni – a hint of Michael Chabon’s fascination with comics?
… (more)
LibraryThing member LaurieRKing
The Pulitzer winner does a swashbuckler: Jews with swords!
LibraryThing member christhirteen
As he explains in the afterword, this novel is a break from Chabon's usual 'late-century naturalism'. It does, however, still possess his usual post-modern wit, the knowing glance of the author. That the setting is the middle-east of the aincent world rather than the modern day cities of America does not in any way diminish the novel. In fact, it adds a certain Quixotic charm to the work. That said, it does not posses the epic reach of Kaviler and Clay and, whilst it is an entertaining yarn, it does feel a little light in comparisson.… (more)
LibraryThing member drneutron
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"?
LibraryThing member mikeandmelinda
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.… (more)

Pages

204

ISBN

0345501748 / 9780345501745
Page: 0.4184 seconds