Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Review - The Tsar's Dwarf, by Peter H. Fogtdal

Sørine Bentsdatter stopped growing at the age of six. She's a dwarf, a small and deformed inhuman creature that has decided to hate everyone and everything, including herself.

In this historical novel we follow Sørine from Denmark, to Russia, Poland and back to Denmark, witnessing her misfortunes while transiting between filthy holes, sovereigns' courts, hideous exhibitions, and fine folk's households.

It's impossible to escape the word grotesque when describing this novel. Ugliness permeate the whole story; it's in the dwarfs' deformities, in the human beings' cruelty, and in Sørine's strange forms of love.

There's beauty in it, though. It's in the protagonist's sharp tongue and quick mind -- which made me chuckle throughout the reading -- in her peculiar tenderness, and also in her questioning mind that demands us to reassess our relationship with god, our humanity, and our self-image.

Sørine is not who or what she think she is; but aren't we often deceived by how we picture ourselves, and our actions?

Although I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the narrative, as it's in the first person, present tense, the story flows well from the beginning to the end, so the initial discomfort eventually vanishes, much as Sørine's ghosts.

The Tsar's Dwarf is an excellent reading; it's entertaining and humorous, yet deep and challenging, making an irresistible combination.

Note: You can read Peter's hilarious and cutting opinions about various topics on his blog, or talk directly to him on twitter; which is where I came to know him and his work.


  1. This book is on my wish list!

    With first person, present tense, the reader keeps pace with the characters, witnessing events in a you-are-there "real time." As you, I have not read many stories with this point of view, so interested to see how it is used in this tale.

    Good review!

  2. Wow - sounds like an interesting book - lots of layers to keep you interested! Thanks for the review.

  3. Sounds like a really good book Mariana, shall read it after finished current one "A Lucky Child" by Thomas Buergenthal.

  4. Haven't met a dwarf that I didn't like. I will have to pick this book up. Nice review.

  5. Ooh - intriguing...and it sounds like Peter takes a very courageous, pre- 20th c. perspective - which I like in a historical novel because it gives a much more realistic picture of the world this person would have occupied.

  6. Congratulations on your first book review post. Watch out -- it's a slippery slope. :)


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