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Yiddish for Pirates

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  869 ratings  ·  179 reviews
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 tre
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Random House Canada
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Harry I found an English-Yiddish dictionary, the Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish -English Dictionary (1987), by Uriel Weinreich, YIVO Institute for Jewish Re…moreI found an English-Yiddish dictionary, the Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish -English Dictionary (1987), by Uriel Weinreich, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. Library of Congress Card Number 67-23848. Available on Amazon.(less)
Gary Barwin "oysgepasheter" : it means "fat." (Almost all of the time, I put the English meaning of the Yiddish word in the same sentence so that the Yiddish word…more"oysgepasheter" : it means "fat." (Almost all of the time, I put the English meaning of the Yiddish word in the same sentence so that the Yiddish word worked as a spice or flavouring and the reader didn't need to know the meaning of the word because, if it wasn't obvious from the context, it appeared somewhere in English in the sentence and so, perhaps without realizing it, the reader was already getting the meaning.) Thanks for your question.(less)

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 ·  869 ratings  ·  179 reviews

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Initially, I began reading Yiddish for Pirates under the presumption that it would be all that the Giller Prize nominee reviews had promised. Critics raved! "Rollicking". "Wordplay, adventure, humour!" Lips upturned and enthusiasm in full gear, my introduction to Moishe and Aaron were full blast delightful.

As the five hundred year old parrot floats on a piece of a sunken ship's plank after the ship he and Moishe meet on is attacked, he muses, hoping to see seagulls because their presence will m
Corinne Wasilewski
Jul 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nu, you’re in the mood for something a bisl umgeveyntlekh? Something shpanendik that makes you lakhn and shvitsn just a bisl? Then Yiddish for Pirates is the book for you! I speak the emes truth. When it comes to words, Gary Barwin is a mayster balmelokhe. His ritmish sentences and beautiful loshn will leave you farklemt despite the fact that mensch are being struck down on all sides. And was there ever a narrator with more chutzpah than Aaron? Keyn mol nisht! Go on, read the bukh. You won’t bad ...more
Lauren Davis
Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was asked to blurb this book and was delighted to do so: "What an accomplishment! What an imagination! The wit, the wordplay, and the subversive humour make this a thoroughly original and delightful novel.”
Sharon Hart-Green
Gary Barwin is an immensely talented wordsmith--in both English AND Yiddish. Taking a dark chapter from Jewish history --the Spanish inquisition--he turns it into a riotously funny adventure story featuring a succession of close scrapes, broad heroics, and a love story to boot. Laced with wit and sparkle (and a prominent tongue in the cheek), this is a must read for anyone who is looking for a fresh and inventive rendering of historical fiction.
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, can-con
O Moishe is out at sea again, farmisht like the
farkrimter sky,
He's a skinny ship on a farkakteh sea, with no friends
to sail nearby,
the rum bites and crew shakes, their shikkereh spume
and the seagulls kak on the dreck-slick deck, and
always their meshugeneh crying.

In case the title got you to wondering, this is what Yiddish for Pirates sounds like; at least from the mouth of a five hundred-year-old multilingual African Grey Parrot who has noshed from the Fountain of Eternal Yout
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I can't really recommend this book, it's not bad enough to warrant one star, but it wasn't good enough for me to bother finishing. I've been chipping away at this book for weeks and can't bring myself to finish it, so I'm going to have to bite the bullet and just give up on it.

I can see that it would be appealing to certain people, but I found it to be lacking a lot of things I enjoy in books. It's promoted as a swash-buckling adventure on the high seas, but there really isn't a lot of that - t
If there is one thing I can say about Gary Barwin’s Giller Prize-shortlisted Yiddish for Pirates it is this: I’ve never read a book so jam-packed with word play and creative use of language as this one. I would describe it as a kind of literary vaudeville; a mesmirising act of vocabulary, idioms, metaphors, puns and similes. And, if that’s not enough, it’s narrated by a 500-year-old parrot with a penchant for jokes and scathing one-liners. Yes, really.

The story is essentially a boy’s own adventu
Matt Herman
Apr 14, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2017
DNF. Oy fuckin vey.

Final straw was the three-page-apart menage a trois of parrot sex, geographical boner metaphors, and the most bizarre reference to Lay's (yes the Yahweh damned potato chip) I will ever encounter. Barwin has enough wit to write every sentence with an edge and not nearly enough to realize that this makes every sentence a fucking chore. This is certainly not helped by the fact that the overall story reads a bit like a rejected young adult novel. Don't read this. Or do, I'm not s
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. It cracked me up. The story, narrated by a parrot, was entertaining and novel --Lots of twists and turns embellished with historical connection and relevance, ( Columbus, Indigenous issues, expulsion of Jews from Spain . And then there's the Yiddish! I thought I had a pretty good understanding of 'literary' Yiddish, but wow, there is so much nuance in that language! I'm ready for a full dictionary.
Best of all, written by a Canadian author.
Sherrie Dagg
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Meh. Good bits but very long
Adam Sol
A rip-roaring romp of a book, with more yiddish punning than you could squeeze into a knish. Great fun, some sly historical tomfoolery that reminded me a bit of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, and a full-on education in smart-mouthed parroting. It's a picaresque, so if you want major soul-searching emotional development you might be a bit disappointed, and some characters are dispatched before I could really get to know them, but this is a wild ride well worth the price of admission. Nu? So read! ...more
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Barwin has a way (which is to play) with words and I enjoyed every page of this fun read.
Feb 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
I found this book incredibly disappointing. It was one lame joke after another with a story that went on and on and on and just did not finish.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Barwin is witty and has a clever use of language, but his sentences are so thick they become both disorienting and a chore to dissect. The storyline itself is achingly repetitive, my attention often waned.
I suppose I can see the appeal of this book, it's quirky and cute. But it's really just a boys adventure story where I can't understand half the words. I made it 50 pages in before giving up.
Brynne Takhar
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No book has ever made me want to climb out my window, move to Spain, and become a Yiddish pirate more than this book has. It’s weird and clever and brilliant, and I will love it forever. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Jill Cordry
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was ok
Clever writing, but convoluted plot. The "dad" puns actually got a bit old
James Bowick
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A great read in a very unique narrative voice. A great adventure that leave you thinking.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it liked it
November 20, 2019 - December 8, 2019

The three stars given to this book is not indicative of its quality but rather its effort.
Readability is one star. Imagination is 5. Storyline is barely 2.

Behold (a humurous yiddish-style rant below):

(view spoiler)
Charlotte van Walraven
While the concept and story are unique and fascinating (pirates and talking parrots - where can you go wrong?), this book was unfortunately rather poorly executed. It is clear that the author has a background in poetry because his focus is definitely on abstract description of scenery, characters, and scenarios. While at times these descriptions can be interesting and creative, a lot of the time I found that they were unclear and disrupted the flow of the story.

The actual plot would have been e
Tim Hicks
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly, this story told by a 500-year old talking parrot that speaks Yiddish is almost plausible.
We start in the 1400s, with the Inquisition in full swing and Jews being exiled, maltreated and killed. Of course there would be a resistance movement, and in fiction it's no surprise to see a character who somehow survives no matter what. Why should he NOT end up meeting Columbus and going to sea, and becoming a pirate, and looking for the Fountain of Youth? Why shouldn't there be a ship full
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it
This novel is narrated by a parrot. A parrot who speaks many languages, one of which is Yiddish. My command of Yiddish is non existent aside from the odd phrase/word picked up however so catching a rhythm where words weren't defined was a little difficult at first but, much like starting A Clockwork Orange, I got it. Aaron the parrot is a fascinating narrator, a little bit more fascinating that the story he tells but only just. Aaron tells you of "his shoulder", Moishe, a Jewish boy who runs awa ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it liked it
(view spoiler) ...more
Doug Lewars
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
*** Possible Spoilers ***

The title is a bit of a misnomer. There are a few scenes involving pirates but mostly this book is about survival - and frankly the characters don't do so well. Among other places, it is set in Spain during the fifteenth century. The Spanish Inquisition is in full swing and Jewish people aren't popular - unless, of course they have money in which case they're a bit too popular. Specifically they're being killed or driven out of the country and the church is more than wil
Darlene Karalash
He? This book has me completely mishke-moshke...for whom is the intended audience? At first I was completely enchanted with the Yiddish-speaking parrot-as-narrator and felt this must be adolescent fiction—somewhat confirmed by the narrator’s irreverent preoccupation with sex (i.e. constant references to shmeckles, titzkes and shtupping), plus the generous sprinkling of gratuitous violence throughout the tale. But, as I ploughed through the archaic sentence structure (reminiscent of 18th century ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it
A fairly interesting adventure, made a bit arduous by the large amount of Yiddish. I knew some, having read during the 1960s and 1970s, when Yiddish was more prevalent in books and even movies. It was difficult to stay with it at first, but I eventually scanned the Yiddish, taking it in context (Barwin provides some translations). It is worth the effort. It is a declining language, which is unfortunate, as it is a very expressive tongue. The device of the 500 year-old sentient parrot (it drank f ...more
In brief: An Ashkenazi teen arrives in Spain just in time to meet Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition, flees to the New World, and through the twists and turns of life, ends up as a pirate. As told by a very sarcastic parrot.

Thoughts: This is a glorious blend of high adventure and Judaica, managing to walk the line between pastiche and over-the-top excess. It plays with the tropes of pirate fiction, adventure and sailing fiction, and Jewish dark humour with magnificence, often turning them on t
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Told by the parrot that sat on his shoulder, this story follows Moishe as he leaves home to sail the seas. A young Jew in the 1400s, life was not easy and he soon finds life got a little more complicated.

It's the title more than anything that won me over, but I don't normally read swashbucklers or period pieces so the deck was stacked against it from the start. Add to that just a bit more Yiddish than I could understand and I kind of lost interest. I think, though, that if you like high seas adv
A great book! On the surface it feels plot-driven as the narrator (a parrot) and the shoulder he sits on go from location to location and adventure to adventure. But I feel that the brilliance comes in the literary references, the development of Pirate Yiddish (there is a lot of Yiddish but even if you know no Hebrew you can quickly get the feel of it and the meanings), the Shakespearean insults and inventive language. What takes this book from entertaining and well-written to a work of literatu ...more
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GARY BARWIN is a writer, composer, and multidisciplinary artist and the author of 21 books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His bestselling novel [Book: Yiddish for Pirates] won the 2017 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and was a Governor General’s Award and Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist and has recently been longlisted for the Leacock Medal. His latest poetry collection is No TV for ...more

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