Books for Grownups · Reading

“Gentlemen of the Road” Review

“For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve.”

So begins Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon. I came across this book years ago (to be fair, I think my wife came across it; credit to where credit is due) and believe that it was a bit of a random find. I’d never read Chabon before and most of his books are not really in my area of interest, but this one…ah, this one! I just finished it for the third time, which speaks both to its length (under 200 pages) and its quality.

In brief, it is the story of a giant African and his traveling companion and friend, a Frankish Jew, who are as dissimilar as you might imagine and yet aligned in the general purpose and direction of their lives. Which is to say that they have little of either but to bounce from here to there in 10th century Asia making money in whatever way presents itself. These ways are most often violent or dishonest or both, but in the course of the story they come into guardianship of an orphaned princess who is bent on revenging her murdered family and reclaiming the throne of Khazaria.

I will not spoil the story further. I will say, however, that there is writing and then there is writing. Chabon sports the latter. I have read few books that are so like poetry in the reading. He seamlessly decorates his book with figures of description and speech which are marvelous to enjoy, all the while creating characters whose subtle depth leaps from the page. On top of all that, it’s a great adventure tale! While not a book for everyone – see the content notes below – it is a truly delightful read.

Profanity

3

Violence

4

This is an unvarnished account of adventuring, kidnapping, throne-capturing, and avenging. There is violence throughout, though I would not say that he dwells on the gruesome details.

Sex/Romantic Themes

4

There is some time spent at a brothel and frequent allusions to and discussions of sex. There is little in the way of graphic description, but neither is the sexual left wholly to the imagination.

Miscellaneous

The author, via his characters, is certainly not friendly to religion in general, but this doesn’t form a central theme of the story.

NOTE: As always, my content notes are for informational purposes, not judgmental ones. For a full explanation of my Content Notes and the scale, click here.

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