It was a thrilling morning at the AGO…Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin was named a finalist for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The book joins five other finalists, selected from 161 books.
I’m delighted, of course, but the announcement also brings mixed emotions for me. It’s my last week at Penguin Random House Canada before I go freelance. As a fiction editor, one of the career highlights you can hope for is a Giller shortlisting, and the invitation (delivered with a red rose) to the Giller gala. I won’t be here to receive that invitation, so today I made sure to take one of the offered long-stem red roses as I was leaving the AGO. I’m looking forward to seeing Gary at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest in October, and then at the ball in November.
I’m also really touched that the book is receiving such acclaim and will now reach an even wider audience. Yiddish for Pirates is Gary’s twentieth book, and he’s never been nominated for such a prestigious prize. But deservedly so…here’s what the jury said about his novel:
Across time and across continents, Gary Barwin’s novel ‘parrots’ in an altogether new way. In a ferment of salty witticism, parroty puns and unforgettable Yiddish vocabulary, this is a novel borne not just on the wings of its feathery narrator, but on its own jubilant and alluring language; its own voice. Playful, mocking, using history with audacious abandon, Yiddish for Pirates is a resplendent enjoyment. But, literally viewed from above, the novel also admonishes us about man’s inexhaustible zeal for butchery, for incessant genocide, and for affliction. We have had animal narrators throughout literary history, but Aaron the African grey parrot, from the shoulder of his pirate master, will lift you to new heights.