Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kivirähk’s well-plotted story of language, loss, and fanaticism speaks powerfully to our...

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THE MAN WHO SPOKE SNAKISH

No shortage of blood spills across the pages of Kivirähk’s epic, fantastical novel, his first to appear in English.

In the forest of medieval Estonia, Leemet is one of the last humans to speak Snakish. That powerful language commands deer to lie down to be slain, wolves to allow themselves to be milked, and bears to lose their free will in order to do the bidding of others. Despite these powers, most forest dwellers have swapped their hunter-gatherer existence for agrarian life in the village, taking on Christian names, forgetting the old language, and yearning to speak German, the language of the iron men. Throughout, the mindset of “We’ve always done things this way” does battle with “It’s foreign so it must be good.” Each side proclaims the foolishness of the other using logic that is equally faulty, which is, of course, the point. Naturally, violence erupts from blind convictions, whether Christian or pagan, homespun or foreign. Invasions beget witch hunts beget massacres. The endless stream of blood lust and revenge drags on a bit too long, but wry humor offers relief from myriad spilled guts and beheadings. Leemet’s mother gets tearful when he can’t eat entire haunches of venison; forest women take bears as lovers, who moon after them with lovelorn sighs; and villagers lament not having the opportunity to sing in monasteries as castrati. Most astonishing is the inventive imagery, from lice crossbred large enough to be ridden by people to a legless flying savior who swoops across the cold sea to bludgeon knights and monks. Bears here exude more warmth and humanity than humans.

Though occasionally heavy-handed, Kivirähk’s well-plotted story of language, loss, and fanaticism speaks powerfully to our world’s ever present conflicts.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2412-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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