This book feels like it is right up my alley – it’s written a Canadian author, it’s clever and well thought out, there is humour, it was nominated for Canadian literature awards. It’s BAIT, but I just struggled to force myself through it after it sitting on my TBR pile for two years.
The narrator here is a 500 year old parrot named Aaron, telling the part of his life story he values the most. He tells of “his shoulder,” a young Jewish man named Moishe who escapes the shetl in search of a wider world, in search of hope, sometime in the 15th century. This talking parrot and his beloved young man get caught up in the Spanish Inquisition, in reality spending most of their time trying to survive and help a few other victimized people as they can, including other Jews and the indigenous people of the New World. This is the background story, this desperation to survive state mandated murder, anti-Semitism, petty base evil; this framework supports the adventurous parts of the novel, where Aaron and Moishe get caught up in events like rescuing Christopher Columbus from murdering bandits and searching for the Fountain of Youth. There is a lot of plot here, including lost love, years long separation, revenge, betrayal.
There is a lot of clever wordplay here, a lot of unexplained Yiddish and jokes told in the familiar rhythms of Yiddish speakers. While the reader is able to discern the meaning of many Yiddish words (or look it up), I suspect there are a lot of jokes and references included that went right over my head. That’s ok, there is more than enough to chew on with the book, which is maybe the thing with my enjoyment of it. I found reading this book wearing – there is a lot of complex jokes and allegories, there are examinations of very dark themes that seem prescient in today’s political climate, and it just felt a bit depressing to me. The jokes cover up the despair of Moishe’s failures continually adding up, never-ending loss. I can certainly appreciate the artistry in writing such a layered book, but it felt like quite a bit of work to finish it. I feel bad I didn’t enjoy it more.
CBR10 Bingo category: Backlog