by Rachel Deveau
Gentlemen of the Road
by Michael Chabon
It doesn't matter who we are — male or female, American or not — every human longs for adventure. We try all sorts of things to escape the humdrum of our lives and lately the most popular ways include travel. In distant places, we experience something outside our ordinary selves and consequently come closer, or so we feel, to becoming giants.
Michael Chabon's most recent book, Gentlemen of the Road, offers such a journey through larger-than-life characters Zelikmann and Amram, respectively a Jew seeking his own lonely way with a sword and an African who literally is larger than any other man in the novel. They are tramps, wandering the road doing whatever they can to survive, escaping things the reader never is clearly told. By chance the pair stumbles upon Filaq, the prince of Khazars, and begin helping him re-establish his kingdom (in the hope of winning riches in the end).
Leaving behind the conventions and trappings that modern short stories and films often fall upon (divorces, fragmented relationships, cancer, etc), Chabon takes his reader into new territory. Rather than New York City, he sets the story in the desert; rather than seek the safety of buildings he leaves his characters, almost exclusively, out of doors. If anything, Gentlemen of the Road resembles the story of a wandering pilgrim in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a yarn to be told be around a campfire or at an inn, one evening, among fellow travelers.
Illustrations fill the slim volume (one of Chabon's shorter novels), callings to mind woodcuts in old adventure books by Dumas or Cervantes. The book even has maps in the covers to chart the land where our heroes travel. The images guide readers through an otherwise unfamiliar setting and help create a feeling of nostalgia. Gentlemen of the Road is a bedtime story for adults, taking them back into childhood where they first read the tales of Robin Hood or The Three Musketeers.
Like Chabon's other novels, Gentlemen of the Road is a maze of language that forces the reader to interact — even re-reading passages — to divine what truly is going on. Rather than turn readers off, this density entices, calling them deeper into Chabon's maze to seek its treasure.
Adventure lures the reader on, Chabon explains: "All adventure happens in that damned and magical space, wherever it may be found or chanced upon, which least resembles one's home. As soon as you have crossed your doorstep or the country line, into that place where the structures, laws, and conventions of your upbringing no longer apply, where the support and approval (but also the disapproval and repression) of your family and neighbors are not to be had: then you have entered into adventure, a place of sorrow, marvels and regrets" (Chabon 202).
And just as he has in other stories, the author delivers on his promises. The result is spellbinding, drawing the reader back to read it again and again in search of the place where adventures lie.
Book: Gentlemen of the Road
Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Del Rey
Date: October 30, 2007
Available at: All major book sellers
Price: Hardback: $21.95