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The Man Who Spoke Snakish

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,634 ratings  ·  308 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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4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,634 ratings  ·  308 reviews

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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 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.
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
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pamatā šī bija izvēle smieklīgo grāmatu mēnesim Grāmatu klubā. Biju dzirdējusi daudz laba par Andrusu Kivirehku, un pat mans suns ir nosaukts viņa sarakstītā tēla vārdā (un"Loti no Izgudrotāju ciema" esmu pat lasījusi, ne tikai noskatījusies multfilmu, bet bērnu grāmata tomēr ir kaut kas cits). Arī satīrisks skats uz vēsturi un maģiskais reālisms noteikti ir manā interešu lokā.
Aprakstītā aina ar cilvēku dzīvi mežā, kuri nepazīst maizi un kuriem nav īstu mājlopu (vilki, kurus tur pienam un izjād
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, estonia, dick-lit
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
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
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
Bart Vanvaerenbergh
Welkom in de Middeleeuwen in Estland.
Een klein volk leeft nog in het bos op de oude manier. Ze spreken de taal van de slangen en kunnen zo de dieren aanspreken.
Maar steeds meer mensen trekken naar "het dorp" en vergeten de taal en de gewoonten van het bos.
Het vergt enige overgave om je in dit fabelachtige sprookje over vliegende opa's met giftanden, mensapen en gedresseerde luizen, zussen die het met beren doen, enzovoort in te leven.
Het is vooral een verhaal over eenzaamheid (Leemet is de aller
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
Het begon sterk, goede personages en een goed uitgangspunt, maar ik vond het uiteindelijk wat inzakken en wat langdradig worden...
Apr 22, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sisaldab mitmeid huvitavaid mõtteid ja teisendatud tähelepanekuid, aga kõvasti üle võlli keeratud.
Anna (lion_reads)
What a strange, delightful, and sad book. Reading this while travelling in Estonia was an amazing experience. Although this is a fable, and a satire, Kivirähk sets the atmosphere perfectly so that it seems that you, too, can slip between the birch trees into the forest along with the snakes.

The story is told by Leemet whose people are moving out of the forest to live in a village. There they forget their old ways of life. Instead, they work in the fields, eat bread, and go to church like good Ch
Barbara ★
First of all, this is really not my type of fiction. It's basically a coming-of-age story about Leemet, a boy in Estonia who is trying to deal with a drastically changing world. Leemet and his family live in the forest and speak to the animals (well at least Leemet does). He is the last person in the known world who can speak Snakish and talk to animals. However the forest-dwelling lifestyle has been fading away for generations and now there is only a handful of families still in the forest. The ...more
Ca aurait pu être 4 étoiles mais c'est trop loin de mes lectures habituelles. Les univers fantastiques me transcendent pas particulièrement mais là je suis vraiment rentrée dedans. Surement parce que ça fantasmait la vie sauvage et pas les chateaux et la cour. En tout cas c'était une lecture agréable.
Oct 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, owned, translated
Oh, kids, do I have some feelings about this book.

First of all, I was steered very, very wrong. I was looking at this book at the library book store, and the woman there (who is normally very conservative in her book recommendations for Jefferson) made it sound like it would be an appropriate book for him. An emerging author translated from the Estonian, an epic fantasy tale? Well, you'd better believe it was the next book in our bedtime story rotation.


I still don't kno
Luke Joseph
Nov 10, 2015 rated it liked it
An interesting story with more than a few inventive and compelling characters. The novel qualities of the first half are totally engrossing; you'll love these characters. But the second half turns a little sharply into an allegorical myth complete with break-neck tone shifts and at least one lousy (literally) deus ex machina. Still totally worth reading.

"[He] did not get a foothold in his primeval world; he didn't understand its language: that is why he was killed and boiled and had his skull m
Dec 09, 2015 rated it liked it
I very much wanted to like and read this book. However, it wasn't meant to be. I read one third of the book. I found myself wishing I could read it in the original language or that maybe it could have had more rigorous editing. Maybe then it wouldn't be so choppy and repetitive. The folkloric, dark fairy tale quality of the story felt authentic and intriguing. Perhaps I'll try again another time, or not…so many books, so little time.
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it
A hot mess of an awkward and clunky translation. The biggest miscue is that apparently dragon got interpreted as frog, which is just weird. But there's a lot of strong allegory and perhapd even satire here about the modern (medieval) world. Glad I stuck with it and finished but greatly wish that the translation was better.
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ik las dit boek onderweg naar en in Estland. Altijd leuk om een nieuwe schrijver en literaire cultuur te ontdekken als je ook in diezelfde omgeving bent. Dat lukt ook prima met dit boek. Ik zag Leemet en Hiie met hun bootje vertrekken vanaf de kust van Lahemaa, voelde me doof voor het Estisch als een dorpsbewoner voor de slangentaal en genoot extra van het elandenvlees in mijn bietensoep!

Kivirähk opent een andere wereld en vertelt met vaart. Ik vond Leemet op zijn best in zijn kritiek op elke vo
Maria Bache
Hvor frit må man forholde sig til historien? Hvor meget må man gætte om en tid, der ligger før skriftlige kilder og videre fyldestgørende arkæologisk materiale? Romanen her er både udenfor tiden og sat tilbage til overgangen fra jæger-samler-stenalder til bondestenalder. Man kan anklage den for en bilugt af nationalisme, for jægerne og samlerne; skovens folk; er de oprindelige estere, der svækkes i mødet med fremmede, med kristendom (ja, den er OGSÅ anakronistisk) og med bondekulturen. Man kan o ...more
Susanna Rosebush
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I wanted to like this more than I did. I’ve been in such a reading rut recently and this seemed like the one that would break that. I DID like it, but I didn’t LOVE it. The tension between old and new was accomplished and thoughtful. But I felt like it lacked the magic that I needed. Maybe that’s the point of this, after all, how could a book about talking snakes, words that whisper commands to animals, and rumors of a savior frog not be magical unless that’s just the way life is...
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasia
"(...) La novela, asentada sobre la base tradicional estonia, (está dotada de) de una vía de transculturalidad y universalidad suficientemente sólida e intensa como para conectar a nivel profundo con una amplia comunidad de lectores. A sentir con fuerza esta tensión ayuda la extraordinaria traducción directa a cargo de Consuelo Rubio Alcover para disfrutar reflexionando y riendo al tiempo."
Jan 08, 2019 rated it liked it
A very different type of book. Animals that speak to people who know the old ways of speaking Snakish. Life lived as forest people with the old ways, while struggling with ex forest people who have moved into villages and followed a somewhat strange religious cult. A little bit of hobbitish type fantasy.
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I found out about this book from a list of the quintessential books to read for the countries of many U.S. ambassadors, and I'm so glad I did. This folk tales-ian fantasy-that-doesn't-read-like-most-fantasies revolves around the conflict between tradition/nature and the modern/anti-nature world.
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked the concept of this book, but it didn't really do it for me. Maybe it was the translation. I thought that the author created a really interesting world but I never found myself really invested in it.
Patrick Callier
Oct 08, 2017 rated it liked it
You get a strong "kill the normies" vibe. hard to tell whether it's skewering the narrator's obsession with violent atavism and decay but it seems like it is. a funny read, difficult nonetheless
Richard O'Brien
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Good premise. Original twist where fantasy elements were concerned. Ultimately, something was missing. Maybe it's in the translation?
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Adventure, Fantasy, history, Evolution....This makes me want to read more from Estonian authors.
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Goodreads Librari...: Can’t add a quote for this book 3 14 Mar 12, 2018 06:32AM  
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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
“So great is the sea and so tiny are we.” 3 likes
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