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Book Review: Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

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When I started reading Gentlemen of the Road (published by Bond Street Books), I could hear my grandfather's voice. I was, in fact, completely transported back to the nights of my childhood when, visiting my grandparents. My grandfather would tuck me in and read to me from Treasure Island. It wasn't just the prose that evoked the memory. In fact, it wasn't even the mostly the prose that evoked this. It was the design of the book: The map in the front, the red lattice pattern on the title page, the table of contents with its list of illustrations… Gentlemen of the Road greets you like a book from a bygone era.

In his afterword (which by itself alone was, to me, worthwhile reading), Chabon says that the book's working title was "Jews with Swords," and he notes the book's departure from much of his previous work explain it as the writer having "gone off on a little adventure." And so it is, in Gentlemen of the Road, two travelers — the Frank, Zelikman, and the African, Amram — of the Silk Road get caught up in a political intrigue and ultimatley decide to see it through. Like the Silk Road, the story is full of twists and turns, perils and triumphs and it is populated by a collection of questionable characters that bring to it drama and colour. There also are, indeed, sword fights a-plenty.

Gentlemen of the Road is an adventure tale, through and through. For me, just like when my grandfather read me the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, my interest did sometimes wax and wan. I was charmed and delighted by many of the characters (Filaq and Hanukkah among them), and Chabon is, as always, deft in his creation of a sense of time and place.

But the truth is, adventure books are not what best hold my interest. When the swords clanged or escape plans were hatched or attacks were launched, I was only interested in the outcome. Most of all, I was interested in the relationship between the odd couple of Zelikman and Amram, the dynamics of their partnership, the incongruity of it (and, when all is said and done, of virtually all human relationships).

Luckily, Chabon's attention to the nuances of long associations is as close as his attention to the details of the world and its battles, so I kept reading. Just when I would begin to drift, Chabon would bring me back in via his characters, for it is the characters who are the soul of any story worth telling.

It is because of them that Gentlemen of the Road charmed me, in its violent way. Reading it was very much like "going off on a little adventure" of my own, and who doesn't need an occasional adventure?

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