“Hello? If you want the story of a life, don’t wait for your alter maker 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”
We all know that I read a lot – a great deal of CanLit, historical fiction and diverse novels BUT, this is the first novel that I have ever read that has been narrated by…. a parrot! This story is told by an African parrot named Aaron, who is living at The Shalom Home for the Aged. Not only does he share an adventurous tale but he is a gay and immortal parrot that speaks Yiddish!
“What’s it about? Pirates. Parrots. Jews. Jewels. The Inquisition. Gefilte fish. Gold. A girl.”
Yiddish for Pirates is a story of Moishe, a young boy who flees his family home to work on a ship. He escapes with his life from the Spanish Inquisition as Jews are exterminated and burned on stakes. He ends up travelling with Columbus searching for land and for gold with Aaron his constant companion, riding on his shoulder. This pair, along with their crewmates search the high seas for treasured Hebrew Books looking for immortality.
Swashbuckling adventure novels are generally not my genre of choice but I do enjoy historical fiction. I did not have a lot of previous knowledge relating to the Spanish Inquisition and was shocked by the violence of the times. As the parrot shared the history of their adventures, he spouted a lot of Yiddish words including a sense of humour which reflected Barwin himself, as evidenced at the Between the Pages Giller Event.
“Perhaps if the hearty forts of my gastrointestinal talented cremates could be coordinated in a methane philharmonic, our sales might curve”
Barwin has woven the history of persecution, piracy and the Spanish Inquisition with adventure and satire. It was not a fast read for me but I did enjoy it and found myself chuckling as I recalled the author’s enthusiastic voice following the Between the Pages event. The author, who lives down the highway in Hamilton, was not the winner of the 2016 Giller Prize but being on the shortlist is a fantastic honour which has likely encouraged more readers to enjoy this novel!
“A story is a great city, and words are its citizens, jostling and kibitzing in its busy streets”.