A review of
The Tsar’s Dwarf
by Peter H. Fogtdal
“My name is Sørine Bentsdatter. I was born in 1684 in the village of Brønshøj. My father was a pastor, my mother died in childbirth.
“When I turned six my body decided not to grow anymore.
“I don’t care for the term ‘dwarf.’
“As a rule, I don’t care for dwarves at all.”
Thus begins and ends chapter one of The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtdal. Fogtdal is the author of twelve novels in Danish, and The Tsar’s Dwarf is the first to be translated into English. The brisk pace, flip tone, and confounding convictions of its seventeenth-century narrator make the novel, set in the distant past, feel contemporary.
Sørine is self-loathing, but equally self-possessed. If she must endure the scrutiny and disparagement of “fine folk” (who often call out, “Look at the little turd” when she walks by), her own assessments of the fine folk are just as cutting. “His hands are fat and pink, his nails look like shiny seashells. That’s how a human being is. Loathsome and vain, with habits that increase in cruelty the more the person eats.” Physicality is never neutral in The Tsar’s Dwarf. Sørine’s misshapen bones and joints always hurt, and her height precipitates unfortunate proximities. “Once again I’m standing between the legs of servants and footmen. My nose is at the same height as forty-one assholes.”
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