Hamilton author Gary Barwin nominated for Governor General's Literary Award

Hamilton author Gary Barwin has been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for his book, Yiddish for Pirates.

Gary Barwin's Yiddish for Pirates was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize

Gary Barwin's novel Yiddish for Pirates is about a young Jewish sailor, a parrot, and Christopher Columbus.

Hamilton author Gary Barwin has been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for his novel Yiddish for Pirates.

Amazon.ca calls it "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."

Barwin, who is also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, was interviewed by Shelagh Rogers for CBC's The Next Chapter.

Barwin said the book was partially inspired by "Pirate Week" when he was an elementary school teacher. He was also interested in Jewish history and Christopher Columbus.

"It's always hard to know where a novel begins. I think it begins in many places, and then they all come together in the written text," he said. Barwin calls the end result "a strange stew of a novel."

Barwin said choosing a parrot as a narrator felt like an obvious choice in hindsight, because the parrot is "like the Go-Pro on the pirate's head. The parrot is always there."

"And then once I figured out he could be this old Jewish man parrot, the voice came really easily and it was really fun."

"The moment you put together Yiddish and nautical terms you get this very different-sounding language," Barwin said. The language of the book is "very playful."

"I did a lot of research for the book," Barwin said. The novel features the perspectives of the downtrodden people of the late 15th and early 16th century. One Amazon reviewer called it "historically interesting."

The other nominees for the Governor General's Literary Award are:

  • The Parcel by Anosh Irani (North Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Willem de Kooning's Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell (Moncton, N.B.)
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Montreal)
  •  The Break by Katherena Vermette (Winnipeg)

According to the author's website, Barwin was born in Northern Ireland to South African parents and moved to Canada as a child. The author of twenty books of poetry, novels, and books for children, Barwin has been a celebrated writer-in-residence at several institutions, and has taught creative writing at a number of colleges and universities. He is married with three adult children and lives in Hamilton.