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Lo these several years ago, when I was at college, I picked up a book by an author previously unknown to me, but who had recently gotten a great deal of critical attention. The book was wonderful, and the author turned out to be Michael Chabon.

But, because I have something of an occasionally voluntary curse that whatever I first pick up by an author will be, inevitably, their least known book, the Chabon I read was Summerland, which is the one nobody ever talks about. It's great-- a strong fantasy YA about fairies and baseball, and I can't imagine why it seems to fall out of lists of his novels. And I bounced so hard off The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that I saw stars, could not make it fifty pages into that book, and that was my previous experience with Chabon.

Then I heard about this one. The working title of this book was 'Jews With Swords', and it reminds me greatly, in several ways, of The Princess Bride, only with Khazars, which is cooler than The Princess Bride ever got. It's an utterly charming slightly sardonic swashbuckler set in a region of the world and historical period nobody writes about much, suitable for fans of Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars and Naomi Mitchison's Travel Light (which it reminds me of oddly) and, say, Captain Blood, only with more worrying about how to make a minyan in the middle of nowhere. Extremely fun voice.

"It was remarked by one of the eminent physician-rabbis of the city of Regensburg, in his commentary on the Book of Samuel, a work now lost but quoted in the responsa of Rabbi Judah the Pious, that apart from Torah the only subject truly worthy of study is the science of saving men's lives. Measured by the criterion of this teaching-- propounded by his grandfather-- Zelikman counted two great scholars among his present acquaintance, and one of them was a horse."

I wish this book were about four times longer. Also, it is slashy as all get out. I like it even better than Summerland, which is difficult. Maybe I should try one of his Big Serious Novels again.


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