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Publisher's Summary

As the main spoken language of the Jews for more than a thousand years, Yiddish has had plenty to lament, plenty to conceal. Its phrases and expressions paint a comprehensive picture of the mind-set that enabled the Jews of Europe to survive persecution: they never stopped kvetching about God, gentiles, children, and everything else.

In Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex looks at the ingredients that went into this buffet of disenchantment and examines how they were mixed together to produce an almost limitless supply of striking idioms and withering curses. Born to Kvetch includes a wealth of material that's never appeared in English before.

This is no bobe mayse (cock-and-bull story) from a khokhem be-layle (idiot, literally a "sage at night" when no one's looking), but a serious yet fun and funny look at a language. From tukhes to goy, meshugener to kvetch, Yiddish words have permeated and transformed English as well. Through the fascinating history of this kvetch-full tongue, Michael Wex gives us a moving and inspiring portrait of a people, and a language, in exile.

©2006 Michael Wex; (P)2006 HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This treasure trove of linguistics, sociology, history and folklore offers a fascinating look at how...a unique and enduring language has reflected an equally unique and enduring culture." (Publishers Weekly)
"Wise, witty, and altogether wonderful....Mr. Wex has perfect pitch. He always finds the precise word, the most vivid metaphor, for his juicy Yiddishisms, and he enjoys teasing out complexities." (The New York Times)

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  • Overall

Yiddish Self Defense Lesson

Having married into a Jewish family understanding a little Yiddish never hurt. It is a private language unto those who still want to keep the goyim on the outside of the circle. To get the full impact of Wex's book you must listen because it is about language. My wife's grandmother was a Russian Jew and for the first time I began to appreciate the historical and religous perspective of Yiddish and the world she left behind.

To keep it fresh Wex integrated all of this into everyday life. On the downside Wex has an annoying cadence in his reading and picks it up so fast as he continues that you can only comprehend a small piece of what he gives you. If you speak German (ich spreche ein bischen) or Polish or some eastern-European dialect, you will be able to follow. Warning to all goys...don't try Yiddish at home, leave it to the professionals.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Abigail
  • arlington, VA, United States
  • 08-30-07

Enjoyable, but for the narrator

I quite enjoyed this book. It was full of interesting facts and tidbits along with an interesting and witty take on Jewish culture. The narrator however, has a way of elongating the last sound of the last word in a statement, or emphasizes this sound in place of punctuation (such as commas). If you cannot ignore this inflection it may get on your nerves. It is not subtle. Even so, it did not bother me greatly and I found it a fun listen, perfect for daily commutes in the car (entertaining but wont make you late because you had to sit in the parking lot to hear what happens next).

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

entertaining & informative

This was an excellent listen. One fascinating nugget after another. Once you get used to the author's voice, then his pronunciation, accent and delivery make it hard to imagine simply reading the print version. A language study such as this lends itself particularly well to audio treatment. Thank you, Mr. Wex.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Martin
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 02-23-09

Something unusual

So much is explained in this wry and hilarious book. All the sayings and tones of voice we've heard smatterings of come sharply into focus. The inflection of the author is mildly annoying at first, but I soon got used to it and eventually grew to like it. It matches the content perfectly.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • L
  • 03-30-08

Laugh out loud

Ok, so you might enjoy this a whole lot more if you are of certain backgrounds, or your family was traditionally Central or Eastern European, or you just plain love language (particularly Slavic or Germanic), but there's no denying this is a funny book. And, what better window into the soul of a culture than its language?

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Joy of Kvetching

This is the only audiobook I have listened to again as soon as I finished listening to it the first time. Also bought the hardback for the spelling of the Yiddish words and the glossary, and to read for reference. This is a revealing and fascinating description of Jewish life and culture in Gentile society through the past two millenia. It is smart, funny, touching, and enlightening. Highly recommended.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Leslie
  • East Windsor, NJ, United States
  • 11-13-10

Wanted to Like It, But ...

Yes, there are some interesting stories in here (that's why its gets two stars and not just one), and some of the derivations are fascinating, but overall this book was a very depressing account of the "us against them" and "man over woman" mentality on which the language appears to be based. When the author says born to kvetch, what he seems to mean is born to justify bad attitudes and behavior based upon oppression.Overall, I found this book to be extremely sad. If you are expecting a humorous look (which I was), you, like me, will be very disappointed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 09-06-10

Listened to it twice so far!

Really enjoyed this book that I thought was about linguistics, but delivered so much more. The previous mentions of the harsh narration are right, and at first it is pretty hard to take, but I got used to it after awhile. And, there are times when Mr. Wex drops the extreme accent and reveals a pleasant reading voice. The choice not to use that all the time is rather baffling, but the book itself was so enjoyable that I got over it and I didn't even notice how much I was learning. I am still laughing about the place of the chicken in Yiddish culture. Terrific.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Laura
  • Cincinnati, OH, USA
  • 04-23-07

Unusual and enjoyable!

Unusual material (how many books have you read about Yiddish, after all?) delivered in an interesting, anecdotal, amusing way. Also very well read by the author, whose familiarity with the language is so natural that it's hard to imagine someone else reading it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Fascinating, but...

What did you like best about Born to Kvetch? What did you like least?

Apparently, nobody stepped in and told Michael Wex that he shouldn't be the voice recording his book. The book itself is pretty great, but Wex has a... verbal tic... that is infuriating to listen to.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

It's a very interesting portrait of a culture through its language. Well worth a read!

What didn’t you like about Michael Wex’s performance?

Wex has a habit of starting out normally, then switching to a deep, slow voice on the last word of every single sennnnnteeennnnnce. It's jarring at first, you think he exaggeraating something to make a point about language, but then you realize that's just the way he taaaaalllllks. After 30 minutes, it's more than a little bit annooooooyyyiiiiing. Over the course of the entire book, it's basically unbeeeaaaaraaabbbbllllllle.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

As a documentary, it'd be worth putting on Netflix. As long as Wex's voice wasn't in it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful