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The Tsar's Dwarf

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  175 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
Sorine, a female Danish dwarf tormented by her past, is given by the king of Denmark to Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who is smitten with the unusual combination of her freakishness and superior intellect. He takes her to St. Petersburg against her will to make her a jester in his court. Her brilliance and sarcastic wit help her forge an existence amidst the squalor and li ...more
Paperback, 289 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Hawthorne Books (first published 2006)
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Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee
Sep 24, 2015 Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: to lovers of serious fiction
Shelves: arc-review-copy
Sorine Bentsdatter had the misfortune to be born in 1684, in Europe, as a dwarf. (Dwarf was one of the better words she was called in Denmark, where she was viewed as the work of the Devil.)

We find her at the beginning of the story in a ghetto: poor, louse ridden, and full of hate. And why shouldn't she be. She is ugly and reviled, handed around like doll, and offered no dignity. Soon however, she comes to the attention of King of Denmark, and Sorine finds herself drawn into his court. But her l
Feb 24, 2011 Audrey rated it really liked it
Upon finishing The Tsar's Dwarf my first thought was, "that was one weird book." Through the first one-third of the book, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. The Tsar's Dwarf was indeed entertaining - well, in the same way you would find watching Pink Flamingos entertaining. You have a snarky, misanthropic dwarf acidly describing all of the humiliations she is subjected to as she "entertains" the European and Russian nobility. She looks upon these "fine folk" with contempt and disgust as she obs ...more
Jun 30, 2009 Maggie rated it it was amazing
By a local(ish) author and a local PDX press.

This book is all that is properly grotesque - deftly mixed repulsion and fascination. This is Sorine's story, the story of a Danish dwarf "gifted" to Peter the Great. She's angry yet tender, confused yet wise. This book is rich but handled with a delicate touch, so it's not too cloying. This is not a proper bildungsroman. Her life is ugly with moments of brightness and if you're the sort who needs a clear path and a clear plot, then it's probably best
Mari Juniper
May 09, 2010 Mari Juniper rated it really liked it

This is the review I've posted on my blog, which I reproduced below.

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 t
Miki Garrison
Mar 29, 2010 Miki Garrison rated it really liked it
I'll be honest -- the first 100 pages of this book were a slow read for me, and I felt more irritation than empathy for the main character. If I had just checked this book out from the library, it probably would have gone back unfinished.

Once I got past that point, though, the book started to pull me in. You begin to see a deeper level of Sørine, and you also see her become more open to changes in perspective. Rather than just hearing about all the parts of life that she hates, and about all th
Aug 31, 2008 Matt rated it it was ok
when i first spotted 'the tsar's dwarf' in the amazon vine product page, it struck me as a gimmicky title and a gimmicky plot device--both of which generally dissuade me from diving into a book. but, the great thing about the amazon vine program is the opportunity to read something i might otherwise not. so, i threw caution to the wind...

well, i should have trusted my initial instincts. while not a fatally flawed book, i found very little to redeem it. for starters, the prose is excessively dull
Jun 12, 2010 Renee rated it liked it
I'm going to give high credit to this book for being unique. It's an unusual main character at a tim that I know little to nothing about. I really should have gotten my degree in international literature because I love how culture infuses the tone and timbre of storytelling.

However, that aside, I think the book suffered a bit from being too anemic. I think that it would have been helpful for the main character, Sorine, to either: a) stay consistent in her sentiments--she loved the Tsar and want
Sep 11, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it
The Russian Tsar Peter the Great collects dwarves like some people collect stamps. So when he visits Denmark, the Danish king has a complimentary dwarf jump out of a cake for his pleasure. Only, this is an ugly little dwarf named Sorine with a mind of her own. And, to the tsar's amusement she's jumped out of the cake naked.

Sorine becomes Surinka and goes to Russia to become part of the tsars collection of dwarves. The tsar has even built a dwarf-sized house for his little pets. Sorine a.k.a. Sur
Jun 09, 2009 Katie(babs) rated it really liked it
The Tsar’s Dwarf is set in early to mid 18th century in Denmark and Russia seen through the eyes of Sorine, a deformed female dwarf who is a gift to Tsar Peter the Great. The first paragraph of chapter one gives us a simple overview of Sorine’s life up to the starting point of the story:

"My name is Sorine Bentsdatter, I was born in 1684 in the village of Bronshoj. My father was a pastor, my mother died in childbirth. When I turned six my body decided not to grow anymore."

Sorine’s story is a jour
Mar 29, 2013 Julie rated it really liked it
Our witty and sympathetic heroine, the Danish dwarf Sorine Bentsdatter, is given as a gift to Tsar Peter of Russia and transported on an odyssey of spectacle, opulence and suffering. Laced with religious overtones, Sorine's journey is ultimately redeeming as she moves through questions of life, death, family, faith and her unusual destiny with humor and large doses of sassy skepticism. Because of her size and lack of social status, this intelligent woman often finds herself dragged into new situ ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Bethany rated it it was ok
It was, for lack of a better word, interesting. I wouldn't really recommend it, as such. I was a bit disappointed, like some others, by the lack of a solid plot. I felt like the book was building to something, but never quite got there.

Sorine is a fascinating self-loathing character, but I couldn't make myself feel anything for her. I'd like to say more about this, but I can't really describe why her honesty and black-humour doesn't quite seem to be enough to make me truly invested in where she

Oct 10, 2012 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owns
Zarens dværg er en fantastisk bog om en fantastisk kvinde (dværgen) hvis liv ikke altid her helt nemt i betragtning af hun er ren underholdning for den tid hun lever i. Den giver indblik i datidens syn på hvad der dengang var "misfostre" og dermed underholdning. Den gør det uden at løfte pegefingre og prøve at stoppe en mening ned i halsen på os, i stedet tager den et udgangspunkt i noget menneskeligt, et helt "almindeligt" liv. Det handler ikke så meget om datiden og historie, som det handler o ...more
Syzygous Zygote
Jul 04, 2011 Syzygous Zygote rated it it was ok
Disappointing. This book could have been so much more than it was. It was thinly plotted, and the characterization was simply awful. In particular, Sorine's character was completely flat and I felt nothing for her...kind of unfortunate as she is the protagonist. It's even more disappointing because I thought the book sounded pretty cool, but the author just half-assed it all the way.

Honestly, it has two whole stars because I tend to reserve the ole one-star of for books that disgust me to the e
Mar 14, 2015 Teresa marked it as abandoned
Read about 50 pages and not really interested. The writing is dull, and although cranky Sorine has potential as a leading character, she seems to be all grouch, with little additional texture.
Nov 10, 2008 katie rated it really liked it
This book is uplifting because(in Fogtdal's imagination) people 400 years ago were as miserable and cruel as they are now. I don't really believe that but that is part of the storyline you buy into in this book. Why is this uplifting? Not because this story is redeemed like so many others by goodness or love, but because of absurdity, and through that absurdity a sense of unique self is claimed by the narrator Surinka. Surinka keeps herself alive through adapting, resisting, using herbs, telling ...more
عائشة توفيق
Jan 03, 2011 عائشة توفيق rated it really liked it
Narrated through the strong voice of a dwarf--strong enough that it enabled me to establish my own point of view on things early on in the story. The novel marries genres together in a confident manner, bringing on a unique mix of: historical, drama, thriller, magic realism, fiction. If there's anything to be said about Peter Fogtdal's style, it is: don't you dare sigh/yawn/smile...if at any point in a line/page/chapter things appear to take a romantic sense BEWARE...Its a trap!
Jan 26, 2013 Constance rated it it was amazing
Absolutely the best. I would have never found this little gem had I not been a Goodreads member. I was reading comments about another book, and noticed PETER FOGTDAL'S review. Finding out he spends time in Portland OR and that this book was published in Portland was a double bonus.

I agree with Mr. Fogtdal's statement that he misses Sorine. He created such a bawdy, honest, out there character that I too, will miss her and all her adventures.

Here's hoping more will follow. Bravo!!
Marie Madsen
Oct 26, 2008 Marie Madsen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everybody but the faint of heart.
Recommended to Marie by: I found it in a book store in San Francisco.
I read this in Danish when it came out. In the beginning it was too dark for me, but then I started to love the fighting spirit of the heroin. It's actually a hilarious novel about a dwarf who goes through one humiliation after another but becomes a better person. The Tsar's Dwarf is not a run of the mill historical novel. It's ingenious, post modern, weird, and unpredictable.Tiina Nunnallys's translation is good. I recommend it highly.
Justin Matott
Nov 30, 2008 Justin Matott rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who like historical fiction.
Recommended to Justin by: Goodreads
The writing is wonderful. The characters are well drawn and the main character is very interesting. The plot line left me wanting a bit more. The main character, the Tsar's Dwarf is the narrator and she is quite interesting, however the story basically moves from event to event and doesn't seem to tie much off or create closure. The star system here is 3 stars I liked it and 4 I really liked it, so I am in between the two.
Nov 03, 2009 Peggy rated it really liked it
Sort of a bizarre story about a female dwarf in Denmark who catches the eye of Tsar Peter the Great. Gives the reader a glimpse of the living conditions that many people endured during those times, and would turn the stomach of human rights advocates, had there been any at that time. I like to read books by foreign authors from time to time as they have a perspective that can be enlightening or at least very interesting.
Jan 23, 2009 Athena rated it really liked it
Not enough novels from Denmark come across the ocean, but I'm so glad this one did. Fogtdal brings to life a dwarf in the 18th century who is given to Tsar Alexander by the Danish king. Sorine tells her story--a story of great wealth and horrid squalor, of political intrigue and base instincts, of travel and entrapment. She's a remarkable character who doesn't flinch, even at moments when most of us would collapse in despair.
Ruth Cour
Nov 02, 2008 Ruth Cour rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All lovers of Scandinavian literature and historical fiction
Recommended to Ruth by: A friend
This book succeeds in being funny and sad at the same time. It tells us about a Danish dwarf, Soerine Bendtsdatter who is brought to Russia to be a court jester at Peter the Great's court. I usually don't like historical novels too much, but the main character is so interesting, vulgar, angry, and funny that she won me over after 100 pages. I love this book.
Sep 07, 2008 Daniel rated it did not like it
First person novel about a Danish dwarf in Russia during the time of Peter the Great. This really isn't a very good book. While many passages are written very well, the problem is that the narrative just doesn't make any sense. It's just one damn incident after another, with no connections between them an no lessons learned.
Ruth Cour
Nov 02, 2008 Ruth Cour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the French version of The Tsar's Dwarf. My grandmother was Canadian, so I understand quite a bit of French. The translation seems to be a little darker than the English, a little less funny. The cover is darker too, but Soerine, the Danish dwarf, is still as exciting in the French version.
Aug 11, 2008 Steveg rated it it was amazing
An instructor and pal of mine wrote this so go buy it in October. It's a very twisted and dark peice of historical fiction. About a dwarf the king of Denmark gave Tsar Peter in the 18th century. Told from the dwarf's POV, and in the present tense. Did I tell you I know the author??
Sep 21, 2008 e rated it it was amazing
Recommended to e by: came from a box
Sorine Bentsdatter is by far one of the most interesting individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She lives here! in this book. This is a simply brilliant is crude and beautiful and philosophical and magical and heartbreaking and enlightening and....
Dec 08, 2008 Rochelle rated it really liked it
I picked up this book at Wordstock and am thoroughly enjoying it. The author is Danish, but spends part of his time in Portland teaching lit and writing at PSU. He's got a great sense of humor and writes a blog:
Kara Rae Garland
Sep 08, 2013 Kara Rae Garland rated it really liked it
This book is *very* literary. I usually don't like that, but I loved the main character so much that I didn't mind. Kind of odd considering what a terrible person she is. :)
Aug 15, 2011 Eleanor rated it did not like it
I know this is a good book, but I didn't like it because I didn't like the characters ... writing is good - but it is downright depressing.
Sep 19, 2009 TinMan rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that started as a work of scholarship and turned into something much better.
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Danish novelist. Has written 12 novels in Danish. Three are translated into French, two into Portuguese, one into English (The Tsar's Dwarf, see below). Shares his time between Portland, Oregon and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Books in Danish, French, Portuguese, and English:

Det egyptiske hjerte, 2015 (Denmark)
The Tsar's Dwarf, 2008 (USA, Canada)
Skorpionens hale, 2008 (Danish),
La Naine du Tsar, 2008 (Frenc
More about Peter H. Fogtdal...

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“I'm going to die. And as if that weren't bad enough, I'm going to die inside a cake.” 6 likes
“I want to take away your sunshine, Lukas. Not because I'm evil but because the sun can't exist without shadows. I want to examine the lie that keeps you afloat--the idea that it's wonderful to be Lukas, that it's splendid to be the tsar's favorite dwarf, that there's nothing better to do than bring crackers to Menshikov like some kind of dog. When does it hurt the most, Lukas? That's what I'd like to know. What hurts you more than anything else? Is it when the tsar mocks you? Or is it when he can't remember your name? Is it when he forgets all about your for a year or two? When are you going to curse Peter Alexeyevich to Hell, Lukas? That's what I'd like to know. I want to get behind that smile of yours, and your clown's heart. And then I'll console you when you fall apart--I'll console you when you realize that you are infinitely unloved.
At that moment I'll be at your side, but no before.
Not a moment before.”
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