A review of

The Tsar’s Dwarf

by Peter H. Fogtdal

Central question: Who decides what is out of proportion?
Format: 300 pp., cloth; Size: 5 ½" x 9"; Price: $15.95; Publisher: Hawthorne Books; Editor: Kate Sage; Print run: 5,000; Book design: Adam McIsaac; Typeface: Paperback; Translated from the Danish by: Tiina Nunnally; Author has written: twelve novels in Danish; Medicinal herbs illustrated in this book: nightshade, hemlock, great back masterwort, sow thistle, pimpernel, common henbane, burdock, agrimony, gooseberry, butcher’s broom; Representative sentence: “Lukas and I sit astride the pink boars, entering the hall with the distinguished guests, the whipped-cream desserts, and the icons.”

“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.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Mary Rechner

Mary Rechner’s fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Washington Square, Literary Mama, and the Oregon Literary Review. Her small book Hot Springs was published by Cloverfield Press. She is the Writers in the Schools program director for literary arts in Portland, Oregon.

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