Centuries ago in middle Europe, a coded language appeared, scrawled in graffiti and spoken only by people who were "wiz" (in the know). This hybrid language, dubbed Rotwelsch, facilitated survival for people in flight—whether escaping persecution or just down on their luck.
[A] deeply personal project, one that probes the meaning of language and family, inheritance and debt ... With his emphasis on persecution and exclusion, Puchner bathes his subject in a rose-colored tint. The incidents of fraud or theft often associated with Rotwelsch seem to belong to a Robin Hood world of victimless crimes ... While Puchner’s enthusiasm sometimes leads him to overstate Rotwelsch’s significance — Hitler’s Mein Kampf becomes a struggle against the language — it inspires illuminating detours into subjects like the history of Esperanto and the birth of simultaneous interpretation at the Nuremberg trials.
...unusual, intriguing ... While such sweeping history is interesting, the crux of his story is personal ... While Puchner’s scholarly interests remain in focus, he writes clearly and thoughtfully, using history to examine past, present and future.
As a scholar in love with words and language, Puchner gives these priority, so his attention wanders, but the digressions are never less than intriguing. He cannot resist exploring the secret languages used by vagrants and criminals ... A compelling mixture of memoir and philology.