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Chabon's Latest Is Literary, Linguistic Adventure

Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, has taken a leave from writing tales of contemporary angst — or what he calls "typical New Yorker marital discord fare" — to write a short adventure novel unlike any adventure novel you could imagine.

Serialized in The New York Times Magazine this year, Gentlemen of the Road is a swashbuckling tale set about a thousand years ago in the kingdom of the Khazars, between the Black and Caspian Seas. It follows the adventures of two Jewish horse thieves and mercenaries who travel through the fabled Jewish kingdom.

The Khazars were a Turkic people who embraced Judaism. And Chabon writes in the afterword that his original title for the novel, which is still his private name for it, was "Jews with Swords."

"[It] was usually good for a laugh. I guess it's like saying 'pigs in space' or something. There's a kind of incongruity there in most people's minds," Chabon tells Robert Siegel.

Chabon laments the lack of adventure tales in the Jewish literary tradition and says he is trying to do his part to remedy that.

Through research, Chabon tried to reconstruct the kingdom of the Khazars in Gentlemen of the Road. The novel's plot explores exotic, faraway locales, and the novel's language reflects that.

"I love words; I have a head for words; I have an ear for them," Chabon says. "If I see an unfamiliar word, I remember it. ... And I do like to use them."

Chabon thinks of the English language as an "immense treasury, packed with words from every era, every land, from the entire history of the human race."

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