Wondering what we mean by “delightfully odd”? Try this: Start by imagining that Leo Rosten (of The Joys of Yiddish) and Terry Pratchett (of approximately 1 million fantasy novels) had a love-child. Then suspend your disbelief’s disbelief.
Narrated by Aaron, an African grey parrot belonging to a pirate named Moishe, and littered with modern Yiddishisms despite being set in 1492, this is not exactly a Johnny Depp vehicle, like that other pirate story. Part of the story is rooted in Jewish history: Moishe belongs to a band of seafaring Jews fleeing Inquisition Spain, not unlike those displaced Jewish pirates on the 17th-century ship Queen Esther. Thanks to the Fountain of Youth, Aaron tells Moishe’s story at the age of 500, thereby overcoming the usual limitations of early-modern history.
Barwin engages with the little-known history of Jewish pirates with verve and humor, though the heavy use of Yiddish/Yinglish vernacular carries the usual attendant editing problems, such as frequent, disruptive mid-sentence translation. But if that’s the price to be a fly on the wall — er, a bird on the shoulder — on this ship, we’ll take it.