Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Friday, November 28, 2008

In Monaco Even The Seagulls Are Wearing Prada.

Monaco is a beautiful pimple on the ass of France.

It's lying on the Cote d'Azur squeezed in between Nice and Italy. If you don't know any geography, Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world. Basically, it's the size of a shopping mall. Come to think of it, Monaco is a shopping mall.

So what am I doing here in this posh Paradise? Well, I'm visiting people close to my heart who moved to this tax-free Heaven a few years back. Monaco is known for its Monte Carlo casino - and for those spectacular suicides people commit after losing at the roulette. In the old days, people shot themselves in the park outside the casino, but that's not fashionable any more. And Monaco is all about fashion. In Monte Carlo even the seagulls are wearing Prada. And no one is caught dead in shorts from WallMart.

Yes, you guessed it. I'm totally out of place. I've always been the loser of my family, preferring Italy from France, but actually you hear a lot of Italians in Monaco. I mean, l'Italia is only ten miles away, so the snobs from Liguria love to hang out with the rich and the beautiful. This Principality is the kind of place where you run into your favorite arms dealer at the bakery. And when you walk down the street, you rub shoulders with ex-models looking for a face lift. But the celebrities have left. Twenty years ago this was the home of Bjorn Borg and Ringo Starr, but now they're probably banging their drums in different luxury resorts.

Perhaps it all went downhill after Grace Kelly died. When the Hollywood star married Prince Rainier, she made Monaco famous all over the world. Now it's her son, Prince Albert who is the benign ruler of this picturesque police state. In Monaco everybody is monitored 24/7. You have so many cameras that Monte Carlo would make George Bush drool. The criminals don't stand a chance in this lecherous Legoland. Neither do non-whites.

Actually, it wouldn't be fair to call the local police racist. They're just suspicious of everybody who isn't the proud owner of fourteen credit cards - and of people with knapsacks. If you're carrying a knapsack, you're either a terrorist or a backpacker - and the police definitely prefers the former.

The greatest thing about Monaco is the mountains and the sea. The Principality looks like a stupendous postcard - the kind of place where you want to marry some one or get a spectacular divorce. Another endearing quality is that Monaco has the same climate as Santa Barbara, California. It's only "cold" one or two months a year. And hey, you can't beat all those palm trees and cacti.

Still, it's not a favorite hang out of mine. There are too many tall buildings and too many short people, but somehow Monaco appeals to my sense of humor. I always picture Americans getting heart attacks when they see the size of the elevators. In Monaco people aren't obese. How could they be? Monte Carlo is all about appearances.

When I leave the Principality to go to Spain, I admire Monaco from the distance. That's where Monaco looks the greatest: from the distance. But in a twisted way, I'm fascinated with this playground. After all, Monaco is one of those places where a kid will sue his parents if they don't give him a Ferrari for Christmas.

Hey, maybe I'm just jealous I wasn't brought up here?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Please Don't Be Cruel to Robert Mugabe. He Is Such a Sensitive Dictator.

 Christopher Mlalazi is one of many writers who had to escape Zimbabwe during the last decade.

Please don't be cruel to Robert Mugabe.

Robert Mugabe is such a sensitive dictator. And as we all know, sensitive dictators don't have any sense of humor. They are too busy torturing poets and worrying about their stool.

So have a heart, have a little compassion for this ageing dictator.

To tell you the truth, I feel sorry for Robert Mugabe. I wouldn't want to swap lives with that man. Too many power hungry spirits are building nests in his short hairs.

And most of all, too many vicious people are making fun of their leader.

Let me mention some of those people: Raisedon Baya, Christopher Mlalazi, Aleck Zulu, Lionel Nkusi. These scoundrels had the audacity of writing and producing a play called The Crocodile of Zambezi. It premiered May 29, 2008; the writers and actors had worked on it for two years.

The play took place in a fictional country, depicting a weak 94 year old dictator in the middle of a crisis.

Robert Mugabe in crisis?

Don't these artists understand that Robert Mugabe was appointed by God? Does God have a crisis? Of course not. God takes care of business as He sees fit. God is in perfect control. That's why He is so loved by His people.

By the way, Robert Mugabe didn't like the play. Actually, He never saw it. Dictators don't have time for the arts. Well, maybe they listen to Wagner or watch the odd rerun of the Sopranos, but satire, no, that's not their kind of thing.

So Robert Mugabe send some of his boys from the secret police. They rounded up the actor Aleck Zulu and the production manager Lionel Nkosi and gave them a ride in their car. They tortured them and put a gun in their mouths. Maybe they broke a few limbs as well because you shouldn't insult the man who has given so much to his subjects .... sorry, co-patriots.

The play, by the way, was closed down after one performance.

That's totally understandable, because who in their right mind would want to see a play making fun of the Supreme Savior of Zimbabwe? Instead these artists should lavish Mugabe with praise. They should write pompous poems to glorify His strength, they should construct endless bridges in His name, they should create religious cults instead of telling lies about this incarnation of Light.

As I said, Robert Mugabe is a sensitive dictator. And maybe He sleeps a little better after the play closed down.

After all, it's hard to sleep when people laugh at you.

Maybe that's why PEN should change its policy.

You see, I'm a member of the Danish chamber of PEN, an international organization of writers, poets, and novelists who fight for The Freedom to Write.

But perhaps PEN got it all wrong. Instead of fighting for The Freedom to Write, we should have more compassion for Mugabe. We should fight for The Freedom to Torture.

So I propose a new program that supports dictators' God-given right to educate their people. We should print Freedom to Torture t-shirts, arrange expensive conventions at Sheraton, and invite leaders from Belarus and Brunei.

I mean, why become a dictator if you can't torture the people you want? Isn't that part of the job description? Even George Bush had fun at Guantanamo Bay, so why can't Robert Mugabe?

So have a little compassion, have a little heart.

Support Robert Mugabe's Freedom to Torture. The poor man had a difficult childhood, anyway.


This blog entry is dedicated to the brave people of Zimbabwe who have the courage to laugh, especially Raisedon Baya, Christopher Mlalazi, Aleck Zulu, Lionel Nkusi, Petina Gappah, and many, many more.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Park Avenue, New York: The Nostalgic End to a Beautiful Book Tour

I'm sad, almost heartbroken.

My US book tour is over. What am I going to do with my pathetic life now? It's been such a joy traveling with The Tsar's Dwarf. I've had wonderful crowds, people have been supportive and enthusiastic. Everybody from Oregon to Illinois has laughed behind my back, and they've bought a lot of books - but now it's all over. Now I have to go back home and do my laundry like everybody else.

God, reality is so overrated. Maybe we should do away with it?

My last stop was Scandinavia House on Park Avenue in New York. Scandinavia House is the mecca for Scandinavian con artists coming to the US. It's owned by the governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland. It's a stylish place in stylish concrete. Actually, it used to be the East German embassy, but when DDR ceased to exist, the Scandinavian countries bought it.

"Are there still hidden microphones in the ashtrays like in the good old days?" I ask my host.

Kyle shakes his head. He doesn't think so, but then again, what does he know? Well, maybe more than he wants to admit. Kyle's name is Reinhart, that sounds pretty East German to me.

I decide to pull down the shades and interrogate the man. "Who're you working for, anyway?" I demand to know. Kyle laughs. He is actually from Minnesota and has lived in Kulhuse in Denmark. If you've never heard of Kulhuse don't feel too bad; no one else has.

I'm extremely proud to do a reading at Scandinavia House, even if it's in the Volvo Hall. A nice crowd shows up - a nice crowd for a literary reading, that is. Only Henning Mankell, the crime writer, can pull them in. People adore those Swedes when they go on their killing sprees.

After my presentation I sign my novel and talk to the nice folks. The crowd is a mixture of Americans, Danes, and a few Slovaks who dropped by because of the booze. After ten minutes we run out of books which is a shame, but to tell you the truth, it's also á great feeling. I mean, if you can run out of books in New York, you can run out of books anywhere!

Luckily, I'm continuing my tour next year, going to California in February and Hongkong in October. And probably Texas as well. Then throw in some presentations in Portland, Oregon where I teach and some other places in the area.

Yes, I get around. I'm a bit of a book slut. And hey, I'm going to Strasbourg in a month's time to talk about La Naine du tsar, the French edition of the book. But right now I want to thank my wonderful American readers. About 500 of you showed up. A few were forced by gunpoint (I talked at three universities and one high school), but none of you feel asleep as far as I know. Well, that's not totally true. A lady in Milwaukee went into heavy "meditation" during my reading. And a great deal of the audience in Chicago was delightfully drunk.

But I failed to meet a single asshole on my tour. They probably went to the other 555 readings that competed with mine. My readers, on the other hand, are warm, intelligent, and fond of showboats. Who could ask for more?


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Neurotic Notes From A Book Tour (The Wisconsin and Illinois Entries)

The two small book clubs in Madison, Wisconsin who had suffered through The Tsar's Dwarf before I arrived. My hostess in Madison was Danish professor Nete Schmidt, second on the left.

Monday October 26th
It's a wet dream for any writer of the male persuasion.

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin at my only private gig on my book tour. Fourteen women are sitting at the dinner table with me. They have all read The Tsar's Dwarf and claim they love it. Since I know that my readers are going to accuse me of making this up, I'm putting a picture of them on my blog.

Look at them, just look at them. Fourteen wonderful women with exquisite taste in literature are holding up my book. Isn't that just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? Who needs Taj Mahal or Grand Canyon when God has created American book clubs in Madison?

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin, the proud capital of the state. Hey, it's situated in Dane county. We Danes haven't lived in vain after all ...

Tuesday October 27.
I have a day off in Madison, Wisconsin walking aimlessly around campus, admiring the squirrels and the fall colors. It's a cold but beautiful day. The fraternities are preparing for Halloween and hangovers. You see skeletons everywhere - skeletons and John McCain.

I feel happy and content. The lakes are gorgeous in Madison. I want to bring one of them with me to Portland, Oregon, so I have something to look at when I'm writing. I have this thing for lakes. They always give me a kick.

In the evening I end up at the Danish table in the Ratskeller on campus. Every Tuesday night the Danish students meet up to practice their language skills. Most of them have Danish grandparents. Or maybe they got laid in Copenhagen and fell in love with the place for that reason. After an hour in their company, I feel deeply depressed. The American students speak better Danish than I do. And they look way better as well.

Wednesday October 28.
My hostess in Madison is Nete Schmidt. Nete is a Southern Scandinavian whirlwind from Aarhus, full of passion and initiative. At 6 pm we enjoy a meal at an Indian restaurant and then I do a reading on campus. 40 students show up. More chairs are brought out. They're one of the most quiet crowds I've had, but they listen attentively, ask good questions, and drink the wine. What more can you ask of any one?

And hey, they know how to "humiliate" a visiting novelist as well. "Do you have any idea why Scandinavian writers always write about the Outsider?" a professor asks me.

"We do?" I smile feebly. "I had no idea."

"So you're not aware that you're part of a great Scandinavian tradition?"

"I'm not aware of most things in life," I blush. "You're talking to a man who can't even make his iPod work."

After the reading I think of the Outsider. Is it truly a Scandinavian phenomena to write about people who are odd, different, and on the fringes of society? I think all novelist do that, for the simple reason that we feel like outsiders ourselves.

But what do I know? I'm not an academic, I don't know how to put literature into perspective. I just love writing, hoping that my novels will resonate with people in Madison, Marseilles, and Marstal.

At Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop at Downer Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Thursday October 29.
I meet up with my girlfriend in Milwaukee, an hour and a half west of Madison. She has flown in from Portland to spend some quality time with me - if you can use the words quality and me in the same sentence.

At night I do a reading at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue. My hostess Stacie Williams is absolutely great. She has fallen in love with my book, creating a huge display in the window AND in the book store.

"I recommend it to everybody," she tells me. And I believe her. Stacie is by far the most passionate book seller I've met on my tour. I would hire her as my publicist any time. I can just picture her hunting down journalists, breathing down their necks like an aggressive, endearing terrier. My God, if everybody was like her, my book would be number one on The New York Times' bestseller list.

Needless to say, I enjoy my stay immensely, even though an older lady falls asleep two minutes and thirteen seconds into my presentation. Maybe it's because she has chosen the softest chair in the house. Or perhaps I'm just more boring than I think. At one point, I almost walk over and sit on her lap, but I decide against it. I don't want to be cruel, so I just kick her instead.

Chicago, Illinois on a cold Sunday in late October ...

Friday October 30
On to Chicago with my pale girlfriend who shall remain nameless until she gets a tan.

I've never been to The Windy City before. Luckily, it doesn't live up to its name. It's 68 degrees, the sun is out and it's Halloweeen. We keep on running into ghosts, pirates, and grown ups in ridiculous costumes. Are grown ups allowed to go trick or treating? Or are they just trying to upstage their own kids?

In the evening, we eat bad soup in our expensive hotel room. Outside a cold front moves in without asking my permission. Why do I hate cold weather so much? I'm Scandinavian, for Christ's sake!

At the hotel we run into two different conventions. One is for plastic surgeons, the other one for psychiatrists specializing in adolescence. "Can't you combine the two?" I ask a woman in the elevator. "There gotta be a lot of fourteen year olds with nervous disorders who need a nose job. Can't you exploit that?"

The lady ignores me. Later she stares at me in the lobby as if she wants to say, I'm putting you under the knife, buddy, you just wait.

Small time writer hits Chinaski's bar in Bucktown, Chicago. Watch the desolate street behind me. It was Halloween, but sixteen people showed up, anyway.
Saturday October 31.
I'm putting my teeth into a Norman Mailer burger.

I mean, why not? I'm at the most literary bar in Chicago, Chinaski's in the Bucktown neighborhood. The place is named after Charles Bukowski's famous alter ego - an alter ego so famous I've never heard of him. But the burger is good. So are the French fries, even though they should have been named after Camus.

It's a long time ago I've done a reading at a bar, but it turns out to be great. The people in the audience are gorgeously drunk. They must be, anyway because they laugh like crazy. I love every second of it. Man, I'm having the time of my life on this tour. Chinaski's even put my name on their billboard which makes me feel like a rock star.

"Your name has been out there for weeks," Matt, the owner of the bar tells me. I nod, liking the idea of everybody in Chicago going, "who the hell is Peter Fuckday ...?"

After my show I sign a few books and get a ride back to my hotel with the only Dane in the audience. Bucktown is a great neighborhood full of small shops and restaurants - it's much more exciting than the overrated Magnificent Mile downtown. I mean, what's the big deal cramming fashion shops next to each other? They even do that in Dubai. It's so old.

By the way, Tuesday November 11 I'll be at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue in New York at 6.30 pm. The event is hosted by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and the Royal Danish Consulate. I probably have to clean up my act for that one (it's Park Avenue after all!), but if I work hard I know I can do it. I am, after all, a serious novelist who's written a serious book. There's nothing to laugh at. ...