The Next Chapter

Gary Barwin on fifth-grade pirates and Christopher Columbus

Author Gary Barwin on how his experience as a music teacher informed his genre-bending novel.
Gary Barwin's novel Yiddish for Pirates is about a young Jewish sailor, a parrot and Christopher Columbus.

Gary Barwin is a composer and multimedia artist. His novel Yiddish for Pirates, set in the late 15th century, is a fresh take on the classic pirate story. It's a difficult book to explain, but Barwin made the effort for The Next Chapter. This interview originally aired on April 25, 2016.

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. I used to teach Grade 5 music, and we had a week where we would pretend to be pirates for the whole week. They'd write pirate songs, I'd do the attendance like "Arrrr! You be here or you be not here?" and the whole bit. So that was part of it, but I was also thinking about Columbus, and there were these ideas like maybe Columbus was Jewish — which don't turn out to be true, but they're interesting. And one thing that is true is that he actually brought a Hebrew and Aramaic translator with him, because he thought maybe they'd find the lost tribes. So it was interesting to think about who might go with Columbus and what would they think of him.

Gary Barwin's comments have been edited and condensed.