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  • Yiddish for Pirates

  • Written by: Gary Barwin
  • Narrated by: Keith Cinicol
  • Length: 10 hrs and 59 mins
  • 3.8 out of 5 stars (19 ratings)

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Yiddish for Pirates

Written by: Gary Barwin
Narrated by: Keith Cinicol
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Publisher's Summary

Short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and nominated for the Governor-General's Award for Literature, 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.

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. 

This outstanding New Face of Fiction is filled with Jewish takes on classic pirate tales - fights, prison escapes, and exploits on the high seas - but it's also a tender love story between Moishe and Sarah and between Aaron and his "shoulder", Moishe. Rich with puns, colourful language, postcolonial satire, and Kabbalistic hijinks, Yiddish for Pirates is also a compelling examination of mortality, memory, identity, and persecution from one of this country's most talented writers. 

©2017 Gary Barwin (P)2017 Penguin Random House Canada

What the critics say

Longlisted, Canada Reads, 2021

Winner, Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Fiction, 2017

Yiddish for Pirates is a rollicking story, a linguistic typhoon, and the most audacious and original novel I’ve read in a long time. Gary Barwin has the imagination of David Mitchell and a galleon full of dictionaries.” (Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes)

“Gary Barwin is a gifted writer and a whiz-bang storyteller. Both are on vivid display in his hilarious tragicomic epic, Yiddish for Pirates. Narrated by a five-hundred-year-old wisecracking parrot, naturally, this swashbuckling tale had me hanging on for dear life. A wild and wonderful ride.” (Terry Fallis, author of Poles Apart and No Relation)

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What listeners say about Yiddish for Pirates

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Extremely disappointed

This is by far the worst book I ever read.
I had my hopes high being Canadian, Jewish, of Spharadic ancestry...
The story is stupid, most of the Yiddish is stereotypical and vulgar.
I couldn’t finish it, gave up two thirds into it.

Don’t bother.

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2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Great narration, okay book

The narration is great! Very good job! The book itself, however, is hard to follow. There weren't enough details describing the scenarios and, when changing the scenes, it was hard to understand where they were or how they ended up in a certain place. On the other hand, the word selection is good and the text has a good flow to it. To be honest, I'm sorry to say I wouldn't recommend this book. :( I say I'm sorry because I can only imagine the amount of work put into this book. It must have been a crazy amount of research. The book has high quality of work, I just didn't like it. :(

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A must listen/read!

This story was a delightful experience. Very well written, witty, and also brilliantly captivating. I enjoyed how the author wove history into the story line

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Made me chuckle

Easy listening story with fresh humor. It kept my attention and I didn't get bored once!

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Hilarious and touching

What if the history of the Colonial Era was told by a wisecracking Yiddish parrot, the sidekick to the greatest pirate of the Age?

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