The Man Who Spoke Snakish

Winner of the Eduard Vilde Literary Award.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish is one of those important books that speaks to your soul in its own language and which marks a milestone in your personal reading history.” - des Bouquins

“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.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Linda Varick-Cooper for the suggestion.)

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The Brother (aka Country)

The Brother (or Country as it's sometimes known) is the winner of the Eduard Vilde Literary Award.

The Brother opens with a mysterious stranger arriving in a small town controlled by a group of men—men who recently cheated the stranger's supposed sister out of her inheritance and mother's estate. Resigned to giving up on her dreams and ambitions, Laila took this swindling in stride, something that Brother won't stand for. Soon after his arrival, fortunes change dramatically, enraging this group of powerful men, motivating them to get their revenge on Brother. Meanwhile, a rat-faced paralegal makes it his mission to discover Brother's true identity . . .

The Brother is, in Raud's own words, a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to both Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco. With its well-drawn characters and quick moving plot, it takes on more mythic aspects, lightly touching on philosophical ideas of identity and the ruthless way the world is divided into winners and losers.”

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The Inner Immigrant

“These essayistic short stories, penned over a thirty-year period, follow Fabian, Mihkel Mutt’s strange and self-indulgent alter ego, and his adventures in newly independent Estonia. The inner monologues of the chronically indecisive, worrying, apathetic, self-conscious and skeptical Fabian long serve as the author’s voice for delivering ironic observations of the world. These stories highlight the lingering absurdities of the previous Soviet regime, at the same time taking ironic aim at the triumphs and defeats, the virtues and vices of the Estonian intelligentsia.”

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The Petty God

“Events unfold, as in a detective story, or as voices in a fugue. No, I won’t deprive you from the pleasure of unfolding yourselves in hot pursuit of these events and then becoming whole again (as voices become whole in an exhilarating counterpoint). - The Estonian Daily

Set in an Estonian advertising agency after the end of communism, Petty God is a modern retelling of the biblical creation story. Consisting of monologues from four characters, this abstract work showcases the absurdities of modern urban life through the use of extended metaphors derived from the Bible.

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The Ropewalker

Jaan Kross “deserved a Nobel prize and would probably have got it had he written in any other language but Estonian.” - The Guardian

This epic historical trilogy is the engaging winner of Estonia’s translation award. Written by the nation's greatest modern writer, an international multi-award winner, & one of the best-known & most widely translated authors, this novel is the Estonian answer to Wolf Hall.

“Jaan Kross's trilogy dramatises the life of the renowned chronicler Balthasar Russow, whose greatest work described the effects of the Livonian War on the peasantry of what is now Estonia. Like Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell, Russow is a diamond in the rough, a thoroughly modern man in an Early Modern world, rising from humble origins to greatness through wit and learning alone.

As Livonia is used as a political football by the warring powers of Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania, he continues to climb the greasy pole of power and influence. Even as a boy, Russow has the happy knack of being in the right place and saying the right thing at the right time.

He is equally at home acting as friend and confidante to his ambitious patron and as champion for his humble rural relatives. Can anything halt his vertiginous rise? Like most young men he is prey to temptations of the flesh . . .”

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The Same River

“The first English translation of a major European literary figure and Nobel Prize nominee's most significant work of prose to date, this tense, cerebral, fascinating novel is the perfect introduction to Kaplinski.

A semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman, set in the early 1960s, this novel narrates the efforts of Kaplinski's youthful alter ego to lose his innocence and attain sexual and mystical knowledge. The 20-year-old protagonist finds an unofficial teacher in a retired theologian and poet, who is out of favor with the communist authorities. After a summer spent in intellectual and erotic soul-searching, the sexual and political intrigues finally overlap, leading to a quasi-solution. As KGB and university apparatchiks take a close interest in the relation of the two poets, the student outgrows his mentor, who despite accusing the human race of puerility, turns out to be a big and jealous child himself.

This novel is seen by many as one of the crowning achievements of a long (and still-flourishing) career in Estonia, but this is the first time this unique work is widely available in English."

(A special thank you to book club member, Judy Tanguay for the suggestion.)

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Cloudstreet

“From award-winning author Tim Winton comes an epic novel that regularly tops the list of best-loved novels in Australia.

After two separate catastrophes, two very different families leave the country for the bright lights of Perth. The Lambs are industrious, united, and—until God seems to turn His back on their boy Fish—religious. The Pickleses are gamblers, boozers, fractious, and unlikely landlords.

Change, hardship, and the war force them to swallow their dignity and share a great, breathing, shuddering house called Cloudstreet. Over the next twenty years, they struggle and strive, laugh and curse, come apart and pull together under the same roof, and try as they can to make their lives.

Winner of the Miles Franklin Award and recognized as one of the greatest works of Australian literature, Cloudstreet is Tim Winton's sprawling, comic epic about luck and love, fortitude and forgiveness, and the magic of the everyday.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Karen Roberts for the suggestion.)

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Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

"Childhood stories of family, country and belonging

What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.

This groundbreaking collection will enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.

Contributors include: Tony Birch, Deborah Cheetham, Adam Goodes, Terri Janke, Patrick Johnson, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Aileen Walsh, Alexis West, Tara June Winch, and many, many more.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Julie Jacobs for the suggestion.)

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Last Woman Hanged

“Two husbands, four trials and one bloody execution: Winner of the 2015 Davitt Award for Best Crime Book (Non-fiction)— the terrible true story of Louisa Collins.

In January 1889, Louisa Collins, a 41-year-old mother of ten children, became the first woman hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and the last woman hanged in New South Wales. Both of Louisa's husbands had died suddenly and the Crown, convinced that Louisa poisoned them with arsenic, put her on trial an extraordinary four times in order to get a conviction, to the horror of many in the legal community. Louisa protested her innocence until the end.

Much of the evidence against Louisa was circumstantial. Some of the most important testimony was given by her only daughter, May, who was just 10-years-old when asked to take the stand. Louisa Collins was hanged at a time when women were in no sense equal under the law—except when it came to the gallows. They could not vote or stand for parliament—or sit on juries. Against this background, a small group of women rose up to try to save Louisa's life, arguing that a legal system comprised only of men—male judges, all-male jury, male prosecutor, governor and Premier—could not with any integrity hang a woman. The tenacity of these women would not save Louisa but it would ultimately carry women from their homes all the way to Parliament House.“

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Lexicon

Awarded Book of the Year among other accolades from 16 major media sites including Time, Goodreads, Vogue, & NPR

“A novel of international intrigue and weaponized linguistics,” it's about “as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell.”

“Stick and stones break bones. Words kill.

They recruited Emily Ruff from the streets. They said it was because she's good with words. They'll live to regret it.

They said Wil Parke survived something he shouldn't have. But he doesn't remember. Now they're after him and he doesn't know why.

There's a word, they say. A word that kills. And they want it back . . . “

Beloved by a variety of authors the likes of Hugh Howey, NY Times bestselling author of Wool who titled itA masterpiece!”, Kirkus notes this is “an up-all-night thriller for geeks who want to see their wizards all grown up in the real world and armed to the teeth in a bloody story.”

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Musketeer Space

“Written by a double Hugo award-winning author, Musketeer Space is a gender-flipped, space opera retelling of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel The Three Musketeers.” It’s “smart, funny, fast-paced and absorbing ” with outstanding 4.5 star & above reviews on all platforms including Goodreads & Amazon.

“‘I haven't got a blade. I haven't got a ship. I washed out of the Musketeers. If this is your idea of honour, put down the swords and I'll take you on with my bare hands.’

When Dana D'Artagnan left home for a life of adventure, she never expected to form a friendship with Paris Satellite's most infamous sword-fighting scoundrels: the Musketeers known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Dana and her friends are swept up in a political conspiracy involving royal scandals, disguised spaceships, a handsome tailor who keeps getting himself kidnapped, and a seductive spy with too many secrets.

With the Solar System on the brink of war, Dana finally has a chance to prove herself. But is it worth becoming a Musketeer if she has to sacrifice her friends?

Swords! Kissing! Friendship! Spies! Spaceships! All for one and one for all.”

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The Slap

“The basis for the NBC event series directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Uma Thurman, Peter Sarsgaard, and Zachary Quinto.

In this powerful and riveting novel reminiscent of Liane Moriarty's Truly, Madly, Guilty, literary phenomenon Christos Tsiolkas unflinchingly exposes the inner workings of domestic life, friendship, and parenthood in the twenty-first century, and reminds us of the passions and malice that family loyalty can provoke. When a man slaps another couple’s child at a neighborhood barbecue, the event sends unforeseeable shock waves through the lives of all who are witness to it. Told from the points of view of eight people who were present, The Slap shows how a single action can change the way people think about how they live, what they want, and what they believe forever.”

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Wife of the Gods

"Mystery fans have an important new voice to savor." - Los Angeles Times

"Move over Alexander McCall Smith, Ghana has joined Botswana on the map of mystery." - Kirkus 

"Introducing Detective Inspector Darko Dawson: dedicated family man, rebel in the office, ace in the field—and one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years. When we first meet Dawson, he's been ordered by his cantankerous boss to leave behind his loving wife and young son in Ghana's capital city to lead a murder investigation. In a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman—a promising medical student—has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Dawson is fluent in Ketanu's indigenous language, so he's the right man for the job, but the local police are less than thrilled with an outsider's interference. For Dawson, this sleepy corner of Ghana is rife with emotional land mines: an estranged relationship with the family he left behind 25 years earlier and the painful memory of his own mother's inexplicable disappearance. Armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, Dawson soon finds his cosmopolitan sensibilities clashing with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods. Delving deeper into the student's death, Dawson will uncover long-buried secrets that hit much too close to home."

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Changes

"Esi decides to divorce after enduring yet another morning's marital rape. Though her friends and family remain baffled by her decision (after all, he doesn't beat her!), Esi holds fast. When she falls in love with a married man—wealthy, and able to arrange a polygamous marriage—the modern woman finds herself trapped in a new set of problems. Witty and compelling, Aidoo's novel, 'inaugurates a new realist style in African literature.'

A love story in a world where the working lives of women have changed, but cultural assumptions have not."

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My First Coup d'Etat

"My First Coup d'Etat charts the coming of age of John Dramani Mahama (the former President of Ghana) during the dismal post-independence 'lost decades' of Africa. He was seven years old when rumors of that first coup reached his boarding school in Accra. His father was suddenly missing. 'It is sometimes incorrectly referred to in texts as a bloodless coup, yet it was anything but,' Mahama writes. 'They tried, as best they could, with smiles and toffee, to shield me from their rising anxiety but I could feel it bouncing off the quick sideways glances they shot one another and taking flight like some dark, winged creature.' John's father, a Minister of State, was in prison for more than a year. My First Coup d'Etat offers a look at the country that has long been considered Africa's success story—from its founding as the first sub-Saharan nation to gain independence, to its current status as the only nation on the continent to have, thus far, met the majority of targets on hunger, poverty, and education set by the U.N. But these stories work on many levels—as fables, as history, as cultural and political analysis, and of course as the memoir of a young man who, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, was destined to become a leader in his own land. These are stories that rise above their specific settings and transport the reader—much like the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Nadine Gordimer—into a world all their own, one which straddles a time lost and explores the universal human emotions of love, fear, faith, despair, loss, longing, and hope despite all else."

(A special thank you to book club member, Judy Tanguay for the suggestion.)

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Not Without Flowers

In this contemporary work of women's fiction tinged with surrealism, Not Without Flowers provides insight into aspects of Ghanaian culture many readers may be unfamiliar with—polygamy along with the poor treatment of mental health & HIV.

"Amma Darko tells the story of women in Africa: here it is—misery, pain, agony, dilemmas, and frustrations. She floats the reader on a world of inverted reality, which yet becomes the norm. With creative imagination, confronting the social realities, she seeks out the world of peace and tranquility. But not without verisimilitude. The extremes of moral turpitude beget horrid outcomes, leaving suspense rather than resolution. 

Amma Darko is one of the most significant contemporary Ghanaian literary writers."

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Ordained by the Oracle

Despite the rapid proliferation of Christianity in Ghana, indigenous religious beliefs & practices continue to exercise a profound influence on many  Ghanaians. Among the most widespread of these are a commitment to the reality of ancestral spirits, the necessity of appeasing them through the pouring of libations, & the unique traditional customs which must be performed during 40 days & nights of funeral rituals. 

In this internationally acclaimed novel, Ghanaian journalist Asare Konadu draws on rural life in Ghana to "vividly depict the conflicting strains of emotion and social behaviour of a prosperous trader named Boateng" who must participate in the traditional practices of Akan culture when his wife suddenly dies.

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The Promise of Hope

Slain in a terrorist attack in Kenya, Awoonor did not live to see this final volume of his published, but his spirit endures through his verse which combines the poetic traditions of his native Ewe people of Ghana & contemporary symbolism to depict Africa during decolonization.

"Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s most accomplished poets, had for almost half a century committed himself to teaching, political engagement, and the literary arts. The one constant that guided and shaped his many occupations and roles in life was poetry. The Promise of Hope is a beautifully edited collection of some of Awoonor’s most arresting work spanning almost fifty years. 

Selected and edited by Awoonor’s friend and colleague Kofi Anyidoho, himself a prominent poet and academic in Ghana, The Promise of Hope contains much of Awoonor’s most recent unpublished poetry, along with many of his anthologized and classic poems."

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Butterflies in November

Long-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

"In Butterflies in November, internationally best-selling author Auur Ava lafsdttir crafts a 'funny, moving, and occasionally bizarre exploration of life's upheavals and reversals' (Financial Times).

After a day of being dumped - twice - and accidentally killing a goose, a young woman yearns for a tropical vacation far away from the chaos of her life. Instead, her plans are thrown off course by her best friend's four-year-old deaf-mute son, thrust into her reluctant care. But when the boy chooses the winning numbers for a lottery ticket, the two of them set off on a road trip across Iceland with a glove compartment stuffed full of their jackpot earnings. Along the way, they encounter black sand beaches, cucumber farms, lava fields, flocks of sheep, an Estonian choir, a falconer, a hitchhiker, and both of her exes desperate for another chance. As she and the boy grow closer, what began as a spontaneous adventure unexpectedly and profoundly changes the way she views her past and charts her future.

Butterflies in November is a blackly comic, charming, and uplifting tale of friends and lovers, motherhood, and self-discovery."

(A special thank you to book club member, Karen Vingan for the suggestion.)

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The Blue Fox

Winner of the 2005 Nordic Council Literature Prize

"Set against the stark backdrop of the Icelandic winter, an elusive, enigmatic fox leads a hunter on a transformative quest. At the edge of the hunter's territory, a naturalist struggles to build a life for his charge, a young woman with Down Syndrome whom he had rescued from a shipwreck years before. By the end of Sjón's slender, spellbinding fable of a novel, none of their lives will be the same. The Blue Fox is part mystery, part fairy tale, and the perfect introduction to a mind-bending, world-class literary talent."

(A special thank you to book club member, Ivor Watkins for the suggestion.)

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