Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Chabon, Michael. Gentlemen of the Road. New York: Del Rey, 2007. Print.

Availability: Published in US ($14), UK (£12), and international ($7.99) editions. Also available as an eBook ($8.74/£3.99). Definitely a few copies floating around Tbilisi.

Although this book came out in 2007, I have only heard buzz about it just this year. I’m always up for a fun novel about the region, so when a copy found its way to me, I was eager to give it a go.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed–there was nothing really “Caucasus” in this book (a friend’s reaction was that Chabon has clearly never visited the region). It could have been set anywhere with religious and ethnic diversity: The Middle East, India, Australia, Damar, Tortall… there was nothing particular to the place or evoking the feel of the region in the book, and none of the cultures or religious traditions were fleshed out enough to make them not basically interchangeable.  The characters were meant to be “Jews with Swords” but neither Judaism nor swordplay had too much impact on the plot. I don’t even recall any descriptions of the landscape, which surely a novel about the Caucasus requires! I didn’t find the plot particularly compelling, and there was very little character development; I didn’t connect to a soul. I learned after-the-fact that it was originally published as a serial novel in the NYTimes magazine, which explains a lot. Had I known that before reading, I might have been more forgiving and appreciative. I also detected a case of the author swallowing the thesaurus. I didn’t think the novel was bad, though, just not particularly interesting or exciting to me. It did, however, inspire me to look up Khazaria and the Radanites, giving me a little more historical knowledge of the region.

Verdict: Not bad, but if you’re really interested in adventures in the Caucasus, go read some Lermontov/Pushkin/Tolstoy or one of the other classic novels or travelogues about the region.

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