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. Bella Italia is only ten miles away, so the snobs from Liguria love to hang out with the rich and the famous. 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 any dictator drool. The common 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 probably 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 appearance and bella figura.

When I leave the Principality to go to Spain, I admire Monaco from the distance. That's where Monaco looks the greatest: from the train, the highway, from France. 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.

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

Scandinavia House, 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 live and 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 700 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?