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Novel by Kivirähk ravishing French hearts

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PHOTO: Priit Simson

The French daily Le Monde has picked 15 novels advised for summer reading. The list is topped by L’homme qui savait la langue des serpents i.e. The Man Who Spoke Snakish.

The novel’s success is extraordinary, being a book with peculiar undertones – not an easy read.

The first French printing came in 4,500 copies, the translation supported by Cultural Endowment of Estonia. In France, the book is more expensive than in Estonia. The price specified by Le Monde is €23, in our Rahva Raamat bookstores it can be purchased for €18.

According to Andrus Kivirähk, the book reached the French readers thanks to efforts by translator, the historian Jean-Pierre Minaudier. Having acquired the Estonian language, Mr Minaudier read the novel and developed a desire to translate it into his native tongue.

The book reached the French stores this year, on January 10th, becoming also available in Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. At the time, the publisher Frédéric Martin said it would be good to kick the Snake year off with a book with a title like this, hoping for big breakthrough.

«This is a qualified breakthrough,» said Estonian Publishers Association CEO Kaidi Urmet. She stressed that the success was of the unbelievable kind: namely, second printing is in the pipeline.

Personally, she has been deeply moved by the book. «For me, it was absolute mystique, I could not understand where the fantasy was coming from. A demanding book, on the one hand... as compared to The Old Barny. But very much fun,» said Ms Urmet. According to her, a success story like this will pave the way for catching the eye of other publishers as well.

Mr Kivirähk said he was not too much into how the book was doing in France. Emotionally, he would have been more touched if Le Monde had picked the 15 worst books, with his novel included.

«But I’m surely glad,» admitted Mr Kivirähk. With luck, next year will see The Old Barny and The Butterfly enter the French speaking world.

In February, Indrek Hargla’s novel L’énigme de Saint-Olav: Melchior l’Apothicaire (Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St Olaf’s Church) was published in France.

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