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)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Mystic's Pilgrimage to Rungstedlund - The Home of Karen Blixen or Isak Dinesen

So I visited Karen Blixen a few months ago and found she was very much alive. She is the most celebrated Danish author of the 20the century but didn’t care much for Babette’s Feast, the Oscar-winning Danish film by Gabriel Axel or Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, even though she thought Meryl Streep was great playing her.

She is pleased with the museum at Rungstedlund, of course, as she damn well should be, but finds it strange that so few scholars understand she was a mystic and a witch, most of the time as a healer of worlds, other times as a destructive force when she was unhappy with the way her life turned out.

By the way, Karen finds all this Danish atheism quite weird because how can you be surrounded by gorgeous nature in Kenya and Denmark without understanding what’s lying underneath —- the mindfulness, the divinity in every Red Robin, the holiness of snails or the sentient being inside two giraffes that were shipped to a zoo in small boxes which broke Karen’s heart in Out of Africa.

Blixen understood better than most that nature offers a pathway out of the insanity of the world, the stress, and our self destructive behavior that destroys the sacred at alarming speed.

Karen Blixen’s writing is as spiritual as any guru’s but she never sugar coats life. Her stories are often as dark as they come and she writes better than almost anybody else in the 20th century. Ernest Hemingway thought she should have received the Nobel prize instead of him.  

Please visit Karen Blixen's Museum in Rungsted north of Copenhagen if you’re ever in Denmark. If not, there's another one outside Nairobi in Kenya if you find yourself in East Africa one of these days.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Hope, Peace of Mind, and The Kind of Literature The World Needs

I was born without peace of mind. At least that's what it felt like, but what I know for a fact is that a huge part of it was taken from me when I was four and a half. The next fifty years was a struggle, but the terror inside was probably why I had to develop a sense of humor.

I've never needed medication for my anxieties. White wine was my medication. So was living in my imagination and unlocking secrets from the stars, but the last ten years I've almost become a grounded human being. Internally, my life has never been better than now and I'm actually grateful for the struggles I've had. I would have been a human disaster if I'd gotten everything I wanted when I was thirty-three.

The awareness I have now will change my writing in the future. Most of the fourteen novels I´ve written I wouldn't write today. The Tsar's Dwarf and Flødeskumsfronten, my World War II novel, have been my biggest successes and I'm proud of them, but they are too dark for me now. And my early novels from the nineties are probably too shallow. From now on I want to lift people's spirit but whether it will happen as a novelist, a screenwriter, a spiritual speaker, a poet, or just by being the village idiot I don't know.

When I was keynote speaker at the Book Forum in Lviv, Ukraine in 2017, I told the audience that the age of thrillers and intellectual masturbation will come to an end soon. In the future we're going to need a literature that speaks to the heart because we're heading toward troubled times with a lot of uncertainty around us.

Hope must never become a four-letter world, but in the world of literature and "serious" film it often is. We seem to be addicted to misery which is understandable since it's much easier to write and has more readers. Killing people on the page is a breeze. Making them breathe is a great deal harder. Perhaps the same goes for life, but a lot of people are waking up to the fact that every word we put out there is important.

Do we want to be human sewers trolling everybody we disagree with? Or is it possible to be agents of positive change without writing spiritual dross?

By positive change I don't mean we should go in Disney mode. We still need dramas, tragedies, and edgy thrillers. Nobody in their right mind would want to "outlaw" zombies or police detectives, but the trick is writing them so we can learn something about the human condition instead of increasing the collective anxieties in our volatile world.

I can only talk for myself, but why would I consciously rob others of their peace of mind when I know how dreadful it is to live without it?


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Karen Blixen - Storyteller, Mystic, Witch, and Still Going Strong After Her Own Death

Believe it or not, this is a picture of my new best friend. Her name is Karen Blixen and she is considered the greatest Danish writer of the 20th century. When Ernest Hemingway won the Noble Prize, he said they should have given it to the wonderful writer, Isak Dinesen. Isak Dinesen's real name was Karen Blixen and Meryl Streep played her in Out of Africa.

Last year Karen began to appear in my dreams and meditations; then out of the blue, I was invited to talk about my own writing and hers at Charlottenlund Castle in Copenhagen. At first, I didn't really understand why I was chosen because I've only written two novels that are somewhat inspired by her, The Tsar's Dwarf and Skorpionens hale.

When I arrived at the castle, I was surprised to read in the program that "Karen Blixen would have loved The Tsar's Dwarf."  I don't know if that's true but the main protagonist in my novel, Sørine Bentsdatter is a wise witch, and so was Karen Blixen. A benign one, sure, but definitely not your average Danish Lutheran. "Real art must always involve some witchcraft," she once wrote and that seemed to go for her life as well.

At the event in Copenhagen, I talked about Karen Blixen, The Mystic - her relationship to religion, spirituality, and destiny. As a mystic myself, I share her world view and her deep respect for all gods and faiths. Perhaps that's why I feel she is with me when I read her. Blixen's worlds creep into me and refuse to leave me in a way I've only experienced with Rumi and Hermann Hesse. I simply sensed her presence when I re-read Out of Africa last fall.

Perhaps this isn't as strange as it sounds. The relationship between writer and reader is often a metaphysical one because even dead writers love to be read. Just like their prose, they live on and inspire who they can in this beautiful, magical, and enigmatic universe where nobody ever dies.

Recommended reading:
Out of Africa
Seven Gothic Tales (especially The Roads Round Pisa and The Monkey)
Winter Tales (especially Sorrow-Acre)