Yiddish for Pirates

Gary Barwin's darkly comic novel was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award in 2016.

Gary Barwin

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. (From Vintage Canada)

Yiddish for Pirates was a finalist for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

From the book

Hello. Howaya? Feh. You think those are the only words I know? Boychik, you don't know from knowing. You ain't seen knowing. I may be meshugeh crazy, but I know from words. You think I'm a fool shmegegge? I'm all words.

Hello? If you want the story of a life, don't wait for your alter kaker old gramps over there to wake up. Maybe he'll never wake. But me? Listen to my words. They tell some story. Because I remember. Sometimes too much, but I remember.

So, nu, bench your fat little oysgepasheter Cape Horn tuches down on that chair and listen to my beaking. Come all ye brave lads, and so forth. I'll tell you the whole megillah story from fore to aft.

What's it about? Pirates. Parrots. Jews. Jewels. The Inquisition. Gefilte fish. Gold. A girl.

From Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin ©2016. Published by Random House Canada.


Author Gary Barwin on the inspiration for his first novel. 3:26

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