Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu is a fantasy story in the Pratchett mould of humorous pseudo-history is simply to underestimate it. It is an allegory about the fading of the ages and the vanishing of worlds, laced with a good dose of black humour. On the fringes of medieval Christian Europe lives a forest people, whose members have so far survived thanks to their knowledge of the snake-words. This forest people is gradually losing its identity; they are moving to live in villages. Leemet is the main protagonist, his story is a tragic one, and if it were not peppered lavishly with Kivirähk’s malicious humour, it would be a dismal and fateful tale. This could be the story the disappearance of a small nation (such as the Estonians), but to take in the broader general picture, an allegory of the disappearance of an old world, its magical skills and its people.
Andrus Kivirähk (b. 1970) is an Estonian national treasure, the most loved Estonian writer or the past decade or so. Of course he is a humorist, a joker in the best sense of the word, but perhaps one can only speak of the most painful things by smiling through tears. He is one of the most fascinating writers of the younger generation in Estonia. A journalist by profession, graduating from Tartu University in 1993, he is primarily known for his humorous, taboo-breaking satirical pieces published in newspapers. Kivirähk is an excellent storyteller who writes with a warm gentle humour – he is certainly a highly original comic talent in Estonian literature. The novel Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu won Eduard Vilde Literary Award and the Stalker Award in 2008; and in 2014, The Annual Award of the Estonian Cultural Endowment, which recognizes the international success of this novel.