Gentlemen of the Road
Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Chabon has “gone in search of a little adventure” in this impressive genre-twisting tale set along the Silk Road of the 10th century.
The two wandering con men of the title—Amram, an enormous, gray-haired African, and Zelikman, a moody scarecrow of a Frank—strike an agreement with a shifty Persian to return a troublesome captive to a faraway city for ransom. But the captive has a bloody history, and is not only adept at escape, but is also hunted by an army of mercenaries. Once the captive’s true identity is revealed, the two men are reluctant to help the youth in his wild and likely fatal quest, but a series of events—a stolen horse, a torn hat, a sudden urge to “see something through”—persuade the travelers to offer up their skills. Soon, the men are embroiled in an unlikely plan to return a child/king to the throne of the Khazan Empire.
Chabon has cooked up a religious and cultural stew of a world, full of Vikings and Arabs, Turks and Celestials, clashing both in commerce and in war. Though it’s a cliffhanger-heavy, Conan-the-Barbarian kind of plot, the story is salted with chewy archaic words, and narrated in sentences as artfully twisted as a Möbius strip. Gentlemen of the Road is a strange hybrid—pure genre wrapped in literary trappings—and though it takes some hacking through the latter to get to the former, Chabon’s skill with language, artfully mastered scenes, and subtle wit is well worth the journey.