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)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Every Danish Dog Has His Day?

I'm in Southern Spain.

Ayamonte is a gorgeous place on the border between Spain and Portugal. It looks like a commercial for detergent. Everything is white: the houses, the clouds, maybe even people's conscious. The best thing about the place is its lack of tourists. Sure, you have the odd Dutchman browsing through a paper, but the tourists have their own ghetto. It's eight kilometers outside Ayamonte - a happily gloomy place with five star hotels, washed out golf pros, and overpriced cerveza. It's the kind of ghost town that tourists seem to enjoy - a place where you only meet the locals behind counters.

The two countries are in two time zones, so the church bells fight each other like bobcats. In Spain they think it's noon. In Portugal they're convinced it's eleven. No wonder people are confused around here.

What am I doing in this part of the world? Well, let me put it this way: Last Friday I flew to Lisbon to talk to my Portuguese publisher who had vanished for eight months. After a cup of coffee, she hired me to be part of an international novel that will be written by six writers from five countries. I'm supposed to write Chapter Two and Chapter Eleven. Two Portuguese writers are involved as well. So is a Spaniard, a South American, and perhaps a Czech. What's the book about? I have no idea. That's why it's going to be fun!

But as I said, right now I'm in Ayamonte visiting my mother's kid sister and her husband.

They're travelling around the world in a boat that best can be described as a museum piece. The boat is from 1933 - the year Hitler came to power. But it's a great boat full of atmosphere, books, and mosquitoes that crave your blood. Hannah and Jan are wonderful people and I'm having a good time in their company. We sail up the river. When we look to the left, we look into Portugal. When we look to the right, we look into Spain. Sometimes we stop and take walks in the countryside staring down goats. Even a snake drops by. It's sunny, it's February, life's a miracle.

I've just been through the weirdest book launch of my life.

My twelfth novel Skorpionens hale (The Scorpion's Tail) came out in Denmark a month ago and part of it was great fun. First of all, I've never received more marketing in my life: Billboards at the biggest metro station. Internet ads. Big ads on the front page of the cultural section of the three biggest papers in the land. So now you would think that I've been on countless radio shows, TV shows, reality shows, perhaps being cast in the odd dog commercial? Wrong! For some reason, the media pretty much ignored the book. And the reviews were so weird they made me laugh out loud!

As my blog readers know, my book is a spiritual fable based on 1001 Nights, Hans Christian Andersen, the poet Rumi, the Brothers Grimm, Hermann Hesse, Boccaccio etc. There is a framing story and twelve stories that are based on the mythology of the twelve sun signs. It's rather elegantly done if you ask me - and if you ask Denmark's biggest publisher Gyldendal. But not a single reviewer noticed my literary/astrological tricks. Not even the critics who liked the book.

But who cares? I've finally learned not to let my mood be dictated by reviewers. Or else my life would be a yo-yo - happy when you get rave reviews; devastated when you're put down. All I can say is I'm proud of the book and its many layers.

In the middle of my book launch something strange happened. I received a letter from Amalienborg, the Royal Castle in Copenhagen. I opened it with shaking hands. It was an official invitation in French. Her Majesty Margrethe II wants to see me March 27 for une reception au Palais Christian VII.

Stupid as I am, I thought I was invited because the Queen has read my books. Yes, I admit it. I immediately had visions of Her Majesty enjoying The Tsar's Dwarf while petting her dachshund with manicured hands. These visions were followed by vivid dreams of The Prince Consort browsing through Le Rêveur de Palestine while sipping vin blanc from a long stemmed glass.

But let's face it, the party is thrown by the francophonian embassies and since I won The Francophonian Literary Prize in 2005 (Le Prix Litteraire de la Francophonie), I guess I've been invited, so I can hang out with the good folks from the Canadian, Belgian, and Tunisian embassies. And hey, let's not forget the ambassador from Guinea Bissau. I'm definitely going to rub elbows with the ambassador from Guinea Bissau.

I can't wait. And if any one from the Royal Court read this, I promise to be at my best behavior.

Yes, dear friends, the royal invitation is lying in front of me as we speak. I read through it for the fourteenth time dreaming of knighthood and scepters:

D'Ordre de La Majesté La Reine et de Son Altesse Royale le Prince Consort le Grand Maréchal de la Cour a l'honnneur d' inviter Monsieir Peter H. Fogtdal, Ecrivain et Madame - I'm sure you get the general idea.

Right now I'm going through my wardrobe looking for suits, bow ties, and chastity belts, but the only thing I can come up with is a pair of old Bermuda shorts. I suspect I'll have to do better March 27.

But don't worry: Royal or not, I'll still be back in Portland for a hummus bagel at Park Avenue Cafe ...