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)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

SOS Children's Villages: Sponsor Uncle Just Loved Visiting His Kid in Bangalore, India

Sponsor Uncle has a lovely daughter in Bangalore, India.

Her name is Keerthana, and she has lived in the local SOS village since she was three. Keerthana is ten years old, soon to be eleven, and she has a rich life with a mother and ten other kids in a nice house. Keerthana is probably the most quiet and understated of the bunch----very appropriate since her Sponsor Uncle is a bit of a showboat.

Sponsor Auntie couldn't make the trip to Southern India, but she's proud of Keerthana, too. We had bought her a nice gift: an orange bag with crayons, pens, and a big notebook. Keerthana was very pleased since she likes to draw pictures of nature. She is good at running, too---a talent she luckily didn't put to use when Sponsor Uncle visited ...

During my stay Keerthana glowed in her beautiful dress. And so did her silly Sponsor Uncle who had a lot of fun with her great, naughty siblings. If I could, I would have stuffed them all in my suitcase and brought them back with me, but India has strict rules against that, unfortunately.

When Sponsor Uncle left the SOS Village to go back to his writer's residency at Sangam House he was moved beyond words. But his Indian cab driver soon got him down to earth.

"You pay $40 a month for an Indian kid?" he asked looking at me like I was some kind of a moron.

"Yes, and I love it."

"I can get you five kids for that price," he said and drove me into the heavy fumes of the Bangalore traffic.

Well, thanks to the many SOS Children's Villages around the world, thousands of orphans and poor kids can sleep safely at night and get an education in loving surroundings. And you can sponsor one of them as well, if you like. There are SOS Villages around the world. SOS is active in 133 countries, and you can read about it here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How I Lost My Heart to Nepal and the Tibetans in Boudha

I totally lost my heart to Nepal and the Tibetan community in Boudha. 

I was in town to do two readings at an international writers' festival that actually was cancelled, but since a lot of us had received grant money to attend, ten of us showed up, anyway, including Vikum Seth from India, slam poet Sarah Kay from New York, and my Danish colleague Sally Altschuler. 

The brilliant director of the Literary Jatra, Suvani Singh quickly arranged a lot of events for us, and to my surprise they were all well attended. Sarah Kay kicked some serious ass in Thalem, Vikum Seth disappeared from the face of the earth, and I presented The Tsar's Dwarf and my take on writing historical novels for a large group of wonderful writers, poets, and journalists at ICER college. And I read at the Storytellers' Union along with Sally Altschuler and five local storytellers.

When I wasn't working I walked around Boudha outside Kathmandu in awe, getting up at dawn to circle around one of the world's biggest stupas in the company of Tibetan monks. I loved it and was incredibly moved by the whole experience.

In Boudha I stayed at the Tibet International hotel only 300 meters from the stupa and would recommend it to anyone. The people working there were absolutely wonderful. After a few days, I'd almost fallen in love with three receptionists and with the roof terrace where there was a great view of the stupa and the snowcapped Himalayas.

Well, pictures speak louder than words (as a novelist, I hate that saying) but here are a few photos from my great week in Nepal and Boudha.

Kathmandu is a ride. But leave your lungs at home. They won't like the place half as much as you will. And the Nepalese are adorable. Please invite me again, won't you?


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Reading In Helsinki, Finland: What a Sauna of Love!

The first time I was in Finland I was almost beaten up by two Finnish thugs in a bar.

They didn't like my Greenpeace sticker, and when they found out I'd just been to Moscow, they were convinced I was a Commie. "We like to kill them," one of the psychos told me with a smile that would have made Hannibal Lecter proud.

But last month I was back in the Land of Nokia to present The Tsar's Dwarf (Zarens dværg) in Helsinki. And this time no one tried to bash my head in. Helsinki was sunny and friendly like a sauna of love.

My reading took place at a downtown library. Fifty wonderful Finns and Danes laughed, applauded, and fed me cheese. I spoke to Finns Who Love Denmark Because We Sound So Weird, Danes Who Married Finns And Don't Mind Too Much, and Finns Who Married Danes But Now Can't Get Rid Of Them. There were some great people from The Danish Club and the embassy as well. Even the Ambassador was cool.

I sold a lot of books, too and signed the odd body part.

I did, however, experience some drama. In the airport bus I lost my credit card, but got it back two hours later.

"The Finns are extremely honest," my Danish host, Claus Elholm Andersen told me. He teaches Danish lit at University of Helsinki and recently moved to Helsinki from San Diego. Talking about dedication to the tundra! Claus is the man with the red shoes in the top photo. Whatever gets you through ten months of winter is fine with me, Claus.

Here are some more pictures from Helsinki. The Finnish capital isn't a bad place to hang out. And the sweet smell of Vodka is everywhere, especially in the trams in the morning. So God bless the Finns. They put up with the Russians for centuries, and now they've put up with me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Supertramp's Roger Hodgson in Concert at the Oregon Zoo: Even The Giraffes Got So Excited They Tried To Headbutt This Musical Genius

Sometimes I can't stand all the beauty in the world.

Nine days ago was one of those days.

Roger Hodgson, the lead singer from Supertramp, had the audacity of visiting Portland, where he played some of the classics he wrote in the Seventies and Eighties. If you don't know what songs I'm talking about, let me just mention Give A Little Bit, Breakfast in America, The Logical Song, Dreamer, It's Raining Again, and Take The Long Way Home

The concert took place at the Oregon Zoo in front of orangutangs, leopards, and an enthusiastic crowd of aging hippies. The giraffes got so excited they tried to run up to the stage and headbutt Roger Hodgson, but he was probably protected by Babaji and a hundred other saints.

Goddammit, I don't want to admit how much I was moved by that concert. Not just because Roger Hodgsons songs were the soundtrack to my pimples, but because he is one of the most spiritual singers around.

Listening to Roger is like being in the company of an archangel of music. Like all truly great artists, Hodgson downloads songs from Heaven. I was crying when the old hippie played Hide In Your Shell, one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Equally great was Lord Is It Mine, a modern psalm. Johann Sebastian Bach probably gave it to Hodgson in a dream, and I don't think Bach regrets that!

So, Roger Hodson, I'm very impressed with you. But don't you dare come back to Portland, Oregon! Frankly, I'm not sure the giraffes and I can stand that much beauty.

                                                                                     Guitar photo of Roger Hodgson by Gregory Weinkauf


Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Weird and Incredible Meeting With Israeli Author Meir Shalev (Which Just Goes To Show How Small The World Is)

Meir Shalev, the award-winning Israeli author who was one of the many participants at World Voices 2009 in New York.

Life is a funny and strange four letter word.

Three years ago I was an official blogger for PEN at World Voices in New York.  At the party in a fancy midtown hotel on Manhattan I ran into Meir Shalev, the famous Israeli author.

I'd seen him on a panel a few days earlier where he'd made a wonderful impression, but apart from that I knew nothing about him. But after talking to the man for less than two minutes, I found out that he once met my Jewish Danish grandfather!

My totally unknown grandfather.

From a small town in Denmark. Far from New York and Israel.

Thirty-one years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, how weird was that?

All this came to light just because I bragged to Shalev about being 25% Jewish (my left leg?). My maternal grandfather was born in Safed in 1898 and was abducted by a Danish missionary under mysterious circumstances, ending up in my cold Scandinavian country as a frightened six year old.

"Oh, yes, yes" Meir Shalev told me, "I've heard that story before. He was baptized against his will, wasn't he?  His name was David something. Actually, I met your grandfather twenty five years ago when I was in Denmark. He was a very interesting man."

I stared at Shalev. Was he a mind reader or some kind of memory psycho? Or was I on drugs without knowing it? But then again anything can happen in New York. Some one could have slipped a Semitic pill into my Chardonnay to take advantage of my body - or more likely, to force me from writing more novels.

Meir Shalev continued: "I met your grandfather through Herbert Pundik (a renowned Danish journalist and editor). Then I took the train and visited him an hour and a half from Copenhagen. He lived in the countryside in a beautiful house by a small pond."

I nodded and kept on staring at this strange Israeli writer. This was all too surreal, but at the same time, my granddad's life story was so incredible that most people would remember it if they heard it.

In 1998 I wrote a novelized biography about his life called Drømmeren fra Palæstina (The Dreamer from Palestine). It was my breakthrough to a larger audience in Denmark and stayed 85% true to the real events of his life, but unfortunately, the novel isn't out in English. It was published in French as Le Rêveur de Palestine (Gaia Editions, 2006), and got a rave review from French critic Mazarine Pingeot-Mitterand at the Salon de la Littérature Européenne de Cognac (Cognac Festival for European Literature) in 2006.

My maternal granddad's name was David Huda. He was the son of a Arab father and a Jewish mother, and he was abducted by a Danish Christian missionary when he was six, probably because his Arab Christian father wanted him to have the "right" upbringing.

Then David was brought to Denmark and forced to live in a strange land with a pair of cold, Lutheran foster parents who tried to turn him into a "good" Dane. At that time, no one had dark skin in Denmark, so my grandfather was considered a freak or a circus act by the farmers of Kibæk in Western Jutland.

 My granddad's Christian baptism in 1906. The poor kid had his curls cut off and put in a white robe that made him look like a girl. The event traumatized him for life.

On so many levels, David Huda's life has been important to me. My grandfather was a charismatic man with a great sense of humor, and the novel/biography I wrote about him was my breakthrough in Denmark to a bigger audience.

"I remember that David Huda escaped to Sweden during the Second World War in the bottom of a fishing boat," Shalev said. "He was very ill of cancer when I visited him in the early Eighties, but he made quite an impression on me."

I nodded. My granddad died in February 1982 but had just come alive on Lexington Avenue in New York on a cold May day, resurrected by a wonderful Israeli author I'd never heard of before and who definitely hadn't heard of me.

But maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. American PEN and World Voices are about connecting writers from around the world. Well, what can I say, PEN? You're doing a damn fine job!

 Drømmeren fra Palæstina  (Lindhardt & Ringhof) will be out as an e-book in Denmark this summer. And it will re-released as an audiobook as well, so my old novel/biography is getting a small revival.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Warm Tribute to Damascus and Syria (In Photos, Anyway)

I wish I could write something funny about Syria, but what's taking place in that country right now is incredibly sad.

After eleven months of uprising, fighting has spread to gorgeous Damascus where so many artists and academics have stayed at the Danish Institute, working on their books, art, and projects. The old part of the capital is one of the most fascinating places I have visited in my life, and I loved the Syrians who are a warm and generous people.

Parts of my two latest novels, Skorpionens Hale and Zarens dværg (The Tsar's Dwarf, Hawthorne Books) were written at the institute in Souq Madhat Basha, close to the beautiful Umayyad mosque. It's hard not to be inspired when you "have to" walk through 1001 Nights just to get a shawarma. "Welcome," was the greeting everywhere, and you actually did feel welcome in Damascus where St. Paul got his visions two millennia ago.

So this post is a small homage of pictures from my three Syrian visits where I met so many warm and helpful people. I hope they're doing well right now, but I doubt it. The Assad regime has always been brutal, and unfortunately it's showing its true colors to the world right now.

May Allah be with every single Syrian who wants to live a life in freedom and peace!

All photos copyright by Peter H. Fogtdal, Danish Accent.

Blog entry from my latest stay in Damascus in 2007, Damascus Is A Dream But Lesbians Are Not Allowed