Yiddish for Pirates
Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a hilarious, swashbuckling yet powerful tale of pirates, buried treasure and a search for the Fountain of Youth, told in the ribald, philosophical voice of a 500-year-old Jewish parrot.
Set in the years around 1492, Yiddish for Pirates recounts the compelling story of Moishe, a Bar Mitzvah boy who leaves home to join a ship's crew, where he meets Aaron, the polyglot parrot who becomes his near-constant companion.
From a present-day Florida nursing home, this wisecracking yet poetic bird guides us through a world of pirate ships, Yiddish jokes and treasure maps. But Inquisition Spain is a dangerous time to be Jewish and Moishe joins a band of hidden Jews trying to preserve some forbidden books. He falls in love with a young woman, Sarah; though they are separated by circumstance, Moishe's wanderings are motivated as much by their connection as by his quest for loot and freedom. When all Jews are expelled from Spain, Moishe travels to the Caribbean with the ambitious Christopher Columbus, a self-made man who loves his creator. Moishe eventually becomes a pirate and seeks revenge on the Spanish while seeking the ultimate booty: the Fountain of Youth.
This outstanding New Face of Fiction is filled with Jewish takes on classic pirate tales--fights, prison escapes, and exploits on the high seas--but it's also a tender love story, between Moishe and Sarah, and between Aaron and his "shoulder," Moishe. Rich with puns, colourful language, post-colonial satire and Kabbalistic hijinks, Yiddish for Pirates is also a compelling examination of mortality, memory, identity and persecution from one of this country's most talented writers.
From the Hardcover edition.
“Gary Barwin’s new novel combines swashbuckling and stories of the diaspora, told with some of the most original language play since Ulysses.” —Joyland
“Simply not like anything else. . . . [Yiddish for Pirates is] absolutely marvellous and will woo you, should you let it. . . . With some of the freshest and most whimsical English ever contained between covers, Yiddish for Pirates is a language-lover’s dream come true. . . . The breezy and improvisational feel of the words as organized make the book sing like a jazz solo in the hands of a great artist. . . . Few books manage to treat the subjects of identity, conflict, home and honour so fully and so movingly. . . . Barwin strikes a moving, masterful note. Yiddish for Pirates has an unmatched spryness in both thought and language. It doesn’t conform well to any category or trope of literature, but instead makes a place as a fresh, new thing that draws from sea shanties and Talmud, history and fantasy, romance, adventure, linguistics, fashion, and the adventure serial of the early days of movies. This book is as irrepressible as my enthusiasm for it. You’ll never read anything else like it, and that’s a shonde.” —S. Bear Bergman, The Globe and Mail
“[R]arely does one encounter a work of Canadian literature this exuberant, impassioned, and enthralled with the very nature and essence of storytelling. Yiddish for Pirates is many things: a postmodern pastiche, an episodic picaresque, a compendium of tales competing to see which can stand tallest, and a virtual catalogue of Jewish humour through the ages.” —Steven W. Beattie, Quill & Quire
“Gary Barwin is a gifted writer and a whiz-bang storyteller. Both are on vivid display in his hilarious tragicomic epic, Yiddish for Pirates. Narrated by a five-hundred-year-old wisecracking parrot, naturally, this swashbuckling tale had me hanging on for dear life. A wild and wonderful ride.” —Terry Fallis, author of Poles Apart and No Relation
“Yiddish for Pirates is a rollicking story, a linguistic typhoon, and the most audacious and original novel I’ve read in a long time. Gary Barwin has the imagination of David Mitchell and a galleon full of dictionaries.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes
“What an accomplishment! What an imagination! The wit, the wordplay, and the subversive humour make this a thoroughly original and delightful novel.” —Lauren B. Davis, Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated author of Our Daily Bread and Against a Darkening Sky
“Fun, funny and entertaining. [Yiddish for Pirates is] experimental, interesting and intelligent. . . . On the surface, it’s a pirate story. A rollicking adventure. If you want to dig into language, you can. If you’re looking for a love story, it’s there. But on a deeper level, it’s largely about persecution, which means readers might be surprised to find it’s also hilarious. But it is.” —The Hamilton Spectator
"This wonderfully written novel takes you through a nautical journey with lots of heart, while providing hilarious commentary on the ideologies that fuelled the Spanish Inquisition. . . . Yiddish for Pirates . . . should generate many spirited discussions about human nature -- the lessons we've learned, or have not learned, from our collective past." —Alpha Textbooks, "Book of the Month"
From the Hardcover edition.