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The Man Who Spoke Snakish

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  6,030 ratings  ·  610 reviews
A bestseller in the author’s native country of Estonia, where the book is so well known that a popular board game has been created based on it, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is the imaginative and moving story of a boy who is tasked with preserving ancient traditions in the face of modernity.

Set in a fantastical version of medieval Estonia, The Man Who Spoke Snakish follows a
Paperback, 442 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by Grove Press, Black Cat (first published 2007)
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Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairytale for adults that collapses Estonian history from the time when more than one species of hominid lived in the forest to the rule by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword into the lifespan of one boy. Not much is said about the religious wars that brought Christianity to the area.

The other hominids have tails so can rule out Neanderthals. Whatever they are, they would have poor old Jondalar desperately searching for a penis enlargement treatment.

I probably don't know enough about Estonian
This is one of only two paper books I bought in 2015*. I'd been looking forward to it for months - it sounded almost perfect. East European folkloric fantasy. Not just East European, Baltic, which interests me even more because that's partly Nordic as well. And Estonian ... Diego Marani's The Last of the Vostyachs illustrated pretty well why some of us boring old Indo-Europeans find the idea of Finno-Ugric languages and their localities fascinating. And the book's about pagans trying to survive ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
What is missing for non-Estonian readers of this book is knowledge about references to Estonian cultural phenomena. While this book can be taken at face value, knowing that it has deeper roots makes it even more intriguing. However, Googling will only take a person so far, and so this book raises a lot of questions, my favorite being, "What will become of you if you don't learn to talk German and serve Jesus?"

While reading this book, I continuously wanted to know what I was missing. Where does E
Elyse  Walters
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Andrés Kivirahk, an Estonian writer, wrote an enchanting jewel of a story!
The only thing that might have made it better.... Would to have included illustrations. "The Man Who Spoke Snakish", definitely has an adult fairy tale feeling to it. ... (Dark/light/Funny/Sad......eternal love of nature and purpose).

Leemet, the main protagonist, is a simple boy... Who was born in the village...but can't remember it. His mother moved he and his older sister back to the forest after his dad died.
Lots of
The Man Who Spoke Snakish = Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu

I root for this paganish fantastical story and for the afterword! :)

This is a page-turner and a welcome call for measure against the alluring and fallacious story-telling from nationalists intending to push their political agenda in Estonia and all over the world.

Matching Soundtrack :
The Moldau - Bedrich Smetana


Pour l'histoire à tonalité païenne et fantastique ! et pour la postface !

Une histoire qui se dévide toute seule et un appe
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: dick-lit, fantasy, estonia
There are books which you start reading not knowing what to expect. The first pages promise to take you on a delightful journey and you get geared up for the rest of it happily. You are having fun but in the middle of it, the story slips away from you. You are no longer enjoying it but you hope against hope that the old charm would return. But it never does. This was such a book.

I really wanted to love this book. The author showed such creativity in building a beautiful, if ruthless, world. This
This is one of the most unique (read: bizarre) books I've ever read. There's no plot to speak of, although the last third is quite action packed. I was never bored, despite the lack of direction in the story, and I always wanted to keep reading. But did I enjoy it? I'm not sure. I am glad I read it, though. ...more
Joy D
Protagonist Leemet is one of the last people that can command animals through the language of snakes. He lives in the forest in the time of monks, knights, and “iron men.” It is an adventure story of talking bears, adders, primates, and lice! Definitely not your run-of-the-mill tale. The plot revolves around the people of the forest fleeing to the village, where they become “civilized” and no longer cherish their past customs. Only a very few forest dwellers remain. The story is a combination of ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
The Man Who Spoke Snakish is the story of Leemet, a boy in medieval Estonia who is confronted with colonization and a changing world. Leemet grows up in the forest, where he learns to speak Snakish, a language that enables him to talk to animals in the forest. His family has no need for hunting, as they are able to beckon deer to them for slaughter using Snakish. This lifestyle has been fading away for generations, as the forest dwellers stop learning Snakish and instead move to the village wher ...more
Lesia Joukova
Nov 28, 2016 rated it liked it
The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a book by an Estonian author Andrus Kivirahk and it was translated into English only in 2015. This has been an unexpectedly difficult read for me because this book turned out to be very sad, melancholic and cruel as well.

If this book sounds interesting to you, you probably ought to know that bears are lusting after women in this one and women sleep with them because they're fluffy, there are lots of unwarranted cruelty and insanity, mixing obvious sexual attraction w
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really didn’t expect to enjoy this book so much. I chose to read it simply because it’s Estonian and it’s not often I get a chance to read an Estonian book. But much to my surprise I found myself totally caught up in it and was very impressed indeed. Fantasy is not my favoured genre but on this occasion the author has managed to make his often surreal plot and characters seem completely real – and engaging. A bestseller in Kivirahki’s native Estonia where he is a highly regarded author and jou ...more
I was given this book by someone who is not at all into anything Fantasy or anything with a touch of Fantasy. She didn't like the story at all and decided to give the book away. I told her I would be happy to release her of this burden (hey, a free book is always nice, and there's 50% chance I'll like it), although originally I never thought of even buying the book. That's a classic situation when you have a TBR-pile that refuses to decrease in size.

But now, about 1.5 years later, I finally mana
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I can say with absolute confidence that this is the best Estonian fantasy book I've ever read.

This book is about a boy named Leemet living in the Estonian forest, where he (and all the other Estonian forest-dwellers) speak the language of snakes. Snakes, being the wisest animals of the forest, are able to control all the other animals (except insects, who don’t have enough of a brain to understand Snakish). So the people of Estonia don’t have to hunt – they can just command a deer “come over her
Alan Teder
December 19, 2021 Update Edited to fix a link to the English translation of the 1st chapter of "Rehepapp" in the Trivia and with some reformatting to my current review design.

A Wild Fairy Tale for Adults.
Review of the Grove Press paperback (November 2015) translated from the Estonian language original Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu (2007)

Andrus Kivirähk is known in Estonia for his children’s books such as the Lotte series, and perhaps especially for his parody novels Rehepapp ehk november (The Old Ba
Muse Monthly
Nov 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I remember bringing home One Hundred Years of Solitude after reading it for my Realism in Literature class for university. I remember feeling fundamentally changed after journeying through Marquez's fictional Columbia, enchanted by the words on the page, my heart pounding and my imagination running wild. And, as I often do in this case, I remember handing the book off to my mother for her enjoyment.

Her response was: "It's too weird".

And it happens sometimes that I fail to see the weirdness of
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book in the Alternative History category on CloudLibrary. I can’t argue with that, as it appears to be set in the times of the Christianisation of Estonia - the Northern Crusades of the 13th century - but it surely didn’t happen quite like this.

That section is right below the Absurdist section, and as I read the book, I misremembered that as being the category. Nothing in the book made me think it might not be. Not the wolf dairy, not the hissing at animals, the kissing of bears, or
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, owned, estonian
So very Estonian in the most primal way possible.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Leemet is a young man of the forest people. When he was a child too young to remember the experience, his parents had made the move to the village. His father learned to work the fields and even developed a taste for bread, but Leemet’s mother became bored and could not adjust to village life. This made her easy pickings for a bear, those irresistible lotharios notorious for stealing away human wives. Leemet’s father caught his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto, and the startled animal bit ...more
Nov 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I have such mixed feelings about this book, which is quite unique and which juxtaposes organized religious beliefs with empirical knowledge, modernized agrarian community versus that in a more hunter/gatherer forest-dwelling lifestyle that is in touch with nature and less driven by appearances. The clash of cultures is interesting in the first part of the book but starts to feel very heavy-handed, if not brutal, in the second half. (I'm not saying the brutal clash between paganism and the Cathol ...more
Sep 12, 2017 rated it liked it
King Arthur: Look you stupid bastard, I've cut off both your arms. Black Night: 'Tis just a flesh wound you chicken, now fight!" John Cleese, Monty Python

Well I'm about as shallow as a dingo's pee puddle, and initially, I found this story very similar to the famous Black Night scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail...only funnier. People in the bad old days of Estonian Folklore seemed to be coming to gory endings all the time. But more than that; apparently it's OK if your sister bonks a b
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, estonian-lit
I might have given ‘The Man Who Spoke Snakish’ four stars had I not read it after Speaking of Universities, hoping for something to cheer me up. Despite an intermittently light and parodic tone, this is ultimately a dark, fatalistic, and depressing novel, full of arbitrary violence and cruelty. In form and themes, it reminded me a lot of Laurus, but is if anything harsher. The forest setting is wonderfully evoked, as are its strange inhabitants. I particularly liked Pirre and Raak the Primates, ...more
Colleen Marie Zukowski
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

The Man Who Spoke Snakish is an adult fantasy tale. I stress the “adult” part of that description because it has its moments of violence and gore, as well as coarse language. It was an adult fairy tale and I loved it so much. The book is set in medieval Estonia and takes place in both a forest and a nearby village. The main character, Leemet, lives in the forest and follows the old ways of those w
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Leemet lives with his family in the forest and it provides them with everything they need –shelter, food, clothing. They ride and milk wolves, share living space with intelligent adders and lecherous bears, and hang out with ancient primates who keep lice for pets. And they speak Snakish, an ancient language from the time when men and snakes were brothers and which allows them to converse as well as control most animals, all except insects (except a few like lice). But almost everyone else has m ...more
Alan Teder
Audiobook edition brilliantly read by Aaron Landon

I read and reviewed the paperback edition of Christopher Moseley's translation when it was first published in A Wild Fairy Tale for Adults. I grabbed a download of the audiobook at the same time but had kept it in reserve until recently.

Aaron Landon's narration performance only enhanced my enjoyment of this English translation further. Landon does a very thorough job of giving each of the characters their own voice. This was especially entertaini
Such a captivating story!

It's a mix of historical fiction, fantasy and brutal crime story.
It starts almost like a bucolic fairy tale but later on it changes drastically.
The violence escalates and there are a lot of dramatic plot twists...

The Man Who Spoke Snakish is, most importantly, a tale of contrasts: between the old and the new, the forest and the village, stupidity and wisdom, old customs and 'modern' activities.

It's so sad to see how the old world of Estonian traditions and beliefs is slo
Jan 21, 2016 rated it liked it
This story charts the life of Leemet as his world dies around him. Much of his childhood feels like an old fairy tale. However, the world is changing and modernizing. The fairy tales pass away, either by being revealed as frauds or being abandoned.

The writing in this book is stronger than I'd expected given the rumors of poor translation. The style is straightforward, but descriptive. You will not have trouble visualizing the world Leemet occupies. The plot is likewise straightforward--Leemet g
Feb 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: genre-fiction, baltic
I've never been much of a fan of fantasy, but that doesn't account for my dislike of this book. I just felt that it was missing the lifeblood that makes good books transport their readers to another world. It felt childish. There was no depth to the characters, and there was no real arc to the plotline. There were moments of humor (Werewolves? Why would anyone want to turn into a wolf and be milked and ridden?), and Kivirahk does create a good base for an alternate reality, but everyone is one-d ...more
Bryn Hammond
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: imagined-fiction
Not what I expected: more comic effect and fantasy, less anchor in anthropology (the forest people herd and milk wolves, and strangely despise animals). I felt I didn't get the book for most of it. Forager life seemed almost as unattractively portrayed as village life -- involving as much 'stupidity' -- and the hero holds out for a personal fate more self-determined than either. Culminates in a celebratory comic violence in an anti-modern crusade, along with nostalgia for simple gender. ...more
This book turned out to be perfect for me, just the ideal mixture of mythology, fantasy, historical, weird, humour and the melancholy. I like the stories about turns of time, the end of certain age and raise of a new one. There is always sadness in such stories, this sense of losing something and gaining something else, that not necessarily is the better option. Kivirähk knows how to mix this melancholy with scenes that made me laugh out loud. I got so immersed in the story that I felt as if I w ...more
Arno Vermeulen
Aug 15, 2022 rated it it was amazing
In The Man Who Spoke Snakish we follow Leemet, a boy growing up in an Estonian forest whose inhabitants are quickly abandoning their old ways and lives (including the use of Snakish, an ancient language which allows them to interact with and command certain animals) to convert to the newly arrived Christian religion.

As his friends and family leave the forest, die or waste away in caves and hovels, Leemet meets all kinds of interesting characters and is forced to reflect on the end of an era and
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Andrus Kivirähk is an Estonian journalist, playwright and novelist. His writing style can be called self-mocking and sarcastic with dark humour. His best known work "Rehepapp ehk November", a.k.a. "Rehepapp", has been translated to Finnish and Norwegian. "Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu", a bestseller in Estonia, so popular that a board-game was based on it, has been translated to English as "The Man Wh ...more

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