The Language of Thieves: Martin Puchner with Sarah Weinman
Where: New York Public Library—Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Ave.
917-275-6975 Price: Free
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The award-winning author decodes the history of a secret language and of his family’s own Nazi past.
Growing up in Germany, Martin Puchner learned from his uncle and father a centuries-old, secret, coded language known as Rotwelsch. This “language of thieves” had been used by generations of vagabonds, travelers, Jews, and other so-called outcasts as a means of connection and survival. It blended words from Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Romani, Czech, and other European languages and was rich in expressions for police, jail, or experiencing trouble—such as “being in a pickle.” As an adult, Puchner discovered his grandfather had also been obsessed with Rotwelsch, but for a very different reason: he was a Nazi who had tried to stamp the language out, as those in positions of power had long done, none more vehemently than the Nazis. In his new book, The Language of Thieves, Puchner interweaves family memoir with an exploration into the mysteries of language and translation, and how embedded in this secret language is a spirit of resilience and tolerance, essential for our present moment.
Martin Puchner researched and wrote The Language of Thieves during his 2017-2018 Fellowship at the Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, where he was the John and Constance Birkelund Fellow. He discusses his book with author Sarah Weinman.Buy tickets/get more info now