Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Tsar's Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal

Sorine Bentsdatter is a Danish dwarf in the court of King Frederik IV. When the king is visited by Russia's tsar Peter Alexeyevich (Peter the Great), Sorine is pleased to be given to the tsar as a gift for his "collection".

But Sorine is a difficult character. She does not like dwarves. Sorine does not even consider dwarves to be human. Her self-loathing manifests itself in a caustic, sarcastic wit and a lack of fear from either physical danger or simply speaking her mind, which she does proudly with no self-editing. She is a character who believes when things are going well they will only get worse, and she makes it so. And when things are going badly she is relieved and contented. Even with all of this, she has an overwhelming affection for Peter Alexeyevich, whom she rarely sees. Much like a child for a neglectful parent.

Peter H. Fogtdal's, The Tsar's Dwarf was originally written and published in Danish and has now been translated into English by Tiina Nunnally. Although Mr. Fogtdal has written a dozen novels, this is the first of his books to be translated into English.

While, overall, an enjoyable tale, the reader is often taken out of the story when Sorine "speaks" of scenes happening out of her presence and refers to her "Dwarf vision". This had the unfortunate effect of taking a story that the reader could believe as a slice of life and making it a fantasy. Also, at times, there are words or turns of phrase ("...I can play you like a violin.") that cause pause as being too modern. Whether this is due to the novelist or the translator is not known. Although I found it a bit distracting I can't pretend to know better than Mr. Fogtdal and Ms. Nunnally as to whether or not these are accurate to the time period.

In the end, through The Tsar's Dwarf, Peter H. Fogtdal takes us on a rather incredible journey of a unique character's life beginning just before Sorine Bentsdatter's life with King Frederik IV, through her time with Peter Alexeyevich, where she not only spent time as one of his favorite dwarves, but was also kept in a cloister due to her lack of belief in God and some possible need for exorcism, and then on to a time spent in the tsar's Curiosity Cabinet to be studied by a scientist while on display to "The Good Folk". But her destiny doesn't end there...

Title: The Tsar's Dwarf
Author: Peter H. Fogtdal
Translator: Tiina Nunnally
Publisher: Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
ISBN: 0-9790188-0-3

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