I'm tearing down the back stretch of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, but already sad about the upcoming end of the ride. Such a pleasure. An adventure story of two Jewish travelers at the end of the 10th century, making their fortunes in the wild and dangerous lands between the Black and the Caspian seas.
"I am not overly encumbered by principle," the wraithish and moody Zelikman defines himself. "I am a gentleman of the road, an apostate from the faith of my fathers, a renegade, a brigand, a hired blade, a thief..." He and his companion, the giant Abyssinian Amran, share a love of elephants, their horses and their weapons, and a talent for squeaking out of tough situations. Although the hearts of both have been hardened by this vicious time, Amran has a bit less melancholy than his companion. The two find themselves kidnapping, then rescuing, then following with an army under the command of a young Prince, bent on restoring his lost kingdom.
The adventure is nearly non-stop, slowed only for a few moments here and there of resigned reflection; the suspense is breathless.
Here is an example of Chabon's deliciously chewy prose. Amran, in the middle of a scheme to retrieve his buddy's stolen horse via stampede, contemplating the chance to again save the young prince: "The melancholy he had been carrying seemed to break him open, and the face of his lost daughter was confounded in his heart with the face of the young prince of the Khazars...It was the business of the world, Amran knew, to manufacture and consume orphans, and in that work fatherly love was mere dross to be burned away. After long years of blessed absence, the return of merciful feelings toward what was, after all, only another motherless and fatherless child, struck Amran, bitterly, as a sign of his own waning powers to live life as it must be lived."
Some luscious chapter titles:
Chapter Thirteen: On Swimming to the Library at the Heart of the World
Chapter Fourteen: On the Melancholy Duty of Soldiers to Contend with the Messes Left by Kings
Chapter Fifteen: On Following the Road to One's Destiny, with the Usual Intrusions of Violence and Grace