You are being redirected - hold on tight!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Books: Michael Chabon Wanders Gloriously With Gentlemen Of The Road

Chabon: Wandering Jews a speciality

The Jews are a wandering people, my father always said. The various attempts of Jews to find a home either collectively or as individuals has become a theme in the writing of Michael Chabon, just as he has allowed his muse to gallop across genres in each of his most recent books. This has led to some fascinating and rewarding reads providing you have a taste for the genres Chabon has visited of late.

His most recent book Gentleman of The Road takes on the kind of swordsy adventure stories that Robert E. Howard spun out effortlessly with his Conan books. He captures the grandiose writing and gritty action but adds a knowing spin to his writing. The biggest change is that the novel takes place in Khazaria, a real Jewish empire that existed between the 8th and 11th centuries. His protagonists, despite having varied backgrounds and skin tones, are Jews. In fact the original title as Chabon explains in his excellent afterword, was Jews With Swords.

The story itself is typical and enjoyable adventure hokum full of twists and turns, revenge oaths and suspicious anachronisms. Yet the link is clear with The Yiddish Policeman's Union, his exploration earlier this year of the noir detective novel and an alternate history in which Jews were settled in Alaska rather than Israel after World War II. Similarly, last years slim novel The Final Solution: A Story of Detection played, as it's title suggests, with the notion of a collision between the Holocaust and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Even his most celebrated book, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has the Second World War as a backdrop and concerns Jews grappling with their adopted American home.

Overall Gentlemen of The Road isn't meant to be as "serious" as Kavalier and Clay but as Chabon suggests in his afterword all his novels are in a sense genre pieces, whether that genre is contemporary naturalist literature like his earlier Wonder Boys or historical with a touch of magic realism in Kavalier and Clay or sword and sandals like Gentlemen. With a writer as good as Chabon, it's a pleasure simply to allow him to whisk you off to wherever he sees fit to journey to.

Gentlemen gets four out of five Conans:

No comments: