Read The World — The Man Who Spoke Snakish — Andrus Kivirähk (Estonia)

Jo Reason
4 min readMar 21, 2022


Book description

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 young boy, Leemet, who lives with his hunter-gatherer family in the forest and is the last speaker of the ancient tongue of snakish, a language that allows its speakers to command all animals. But the forest is gradually emptying as more and more people leave to settle in villages, where they break their backs tilling the land to grow wheat for their “bread” (which Leemet has been told tastes horrible) and where they pray to a god very different from the spirits worshipped in the forest’s sacred grove. With lothario bears who wordlessly seduce women, a giant louse with a penchant for swimming, a legendary flying frog, and a young charismatic viper named Ints, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is a totally inventive novel for readers of David Mitchell, Sjón, and Terry Pratchett.

Quote “All Estonians have to come out of the dark forest, into the sun and the open wind, because those winds carry the wisdom of distant lands to us. I’m an elder of this village. I’ll be expecting you.” My Review

Weird book, but the author’s imagination is spectacular, this is an epic fairy tale-fantasy for adults. This is a cultural novel in decline, as less and less people live in the forest because they go and live in the nearby village.

The people who live in the forest have plenty of rituals, customs, a life living and talking and controlling animals in the forest.

There is lots of action, some violence and plenty of snakish, so what is snakish, it is the language Leemet and other people from the forest use to speak to the animals, a sort of hissing, this way he can control them.

This is an easy to read novel but a little long winded in places, specially the beginning, and could have been better if it was a little shorter.

This book also covers the relationship between pagans and christians which often creates a problem between the two as they often don’t understand each other with Leemet being totally anti-religious. Although the novel does not cover the wars that brought christianism to the area.

Regardless of Lemeets’ attempts to avoid this, he is living in a dying community as many of his fellow foresters have gone to live in the village in search of a better life, but the reality of it is that the life is not always better.

The writing is good with nice descriptions and the atmosphere of the novel is great. The forest comes alive with its people and animals.

Towards the end of the book it becomes rather violent, some people might not enjoy this section, but if you look at the history of many lands, like for example the vikings and the many pirates fights, there is often a history of violence between villages/people over lands and vengeance and therefore during the time of the novel this was normal.

There are fables and allegories from Estonia, sprites, sages and spells, but not being someone from Estonia, I have no idea where these end and the author’s imagination begins.

Written in the first person from the point of view of Leemet, who is our main protagonist, who I did not like all that much, but I did enjoy the interactions between the village people and the forest people.

I have never been a huge fan of fantasy, this is the second book so far in the read the world challenge that I read the genre, you can see the previous book here, The Grimoire of Kensington Market.

This novel is 442 pages long, but a relatively quick read with but too many characters. I am giving the book 4 stars.

The next country we are visiting in my read the world challenge is South Africa. Please consider subscribing to continue this journey around the world through books with me.

Originally published at on March 21, 2022.



Jo Reason

Photographer and web designer from the UK but living in Ecuador, spending as much time as I can reading and reviewing books. Stock photography of Ecuador