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)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Course In Political Miracles: Marianne Williamson May Be High on Tofu But She Still Makes More Sense Than the Politicians on the Hill

Marianne Williamson is running for Congress in California's District 33. 

If you have no idea who she is, it's probably because you need A Course in Political Miracles. Marianne wrote A Return to Love and is one of America's finest spiritual writers and teachers. One of her many homes is The New York Times bestseller list where she often stays for months. She is also Oprah's advisor in matters of the soul --- and surely you have heard of Oprah?

During a short trip to Southern California I went to a meeting for Marianne's many volunteers. (By the way, I'm allowed to call Marianne by her first name. Even her own website does:

The volunteer meet-up took place in The Source, a beautiful spiritual center on Rose Avenue in Venice --- the kind of area where hippies wear Armani and order pizza with vegan crust. When I walked in, I was delighted to see mandalas, smiling Buddhas, and about 150 levitating volunteers who wanted to help Marianne get elected. I doubt Mitt Romney's headquarters looked like this. Romney never seemed like a man who would get Yogis excited about anything.

The Source is an old historical church with a saintly and serene atmosphere. (In America any structure built before 1980 is considered historical). Normally it's used for meditations, sacred chanting, and all those things that make Shirley Maclaine excited. The Source seemed like the perfect venue for a woman who is staring a movement that's based on the best four letter word of all, love. MONEY OUT, PEOPLE IN, as it said on a hand-out. Which downward dog wouldn't agree with that? 

Since I'm a Dane from Portland who isn't allowed to vote in the U.S. (except for American Idol) I didn't know where to sit in the crowded church. All around me people were holding up signs, Santa Monica, South Bay, Marina del Rey etc, so I decided I belonged to Venice since I got drunk on their boardwalk once. Luckily I was graciously accepted into Venice's circle of volunteers, all of them sweet and enthusiastic.

When Marianne Williamson appeared, she impressed me. She was honest, passionate and didn't sound like any other politician. Instead of repeating the usual "Washington is broken" mantra, she talked about how WE are broken inside and how that affects the society we are part of. 

She also had a stern warning: "The American government is constantly chipping away at our democratic freedoms---one capitulation to moneyed interests at a time, one new gerrymandered district at a time, one government surveillance program at a time, one limiting of our voting rights at a time, one intimidation of journalists at the time, one Patriot Act at a time ... So at what point do we stand up to our own government and say, "hey, guys. Whose side are you on?"

This quote could easily have been used on Human Rights Day, December 10 when 562 writers from 83 countries (including Nobel prize winners like Umberto Eco, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, and little me) signed a petition called Writers Against Mass Surveillance that was printed in newspapers around the world, including The Guardian, Frankfurter Allgemeine, El Pais, La Repubblica, and Politiken. 

But Marianne Williamson went further at the meet-up in California. She promised to run an outer and an inner campaign, trying to raise consciousness everywhere, since we can't demand change from Washington if we don't change ourselves.

So from a spiritual  perspective we shouldn't just be angry with our government. We should see it as a frightened part of ourselves, obsessed with the fear of terrorism and love of control.
Well, almost everything Williamson said that evening made sense to a spiritual airhead like me. She did NOT come across as if she had overdosed on soy milk. She was NOT a new age caricature but argued well. And thank God, she doesn't run for the Democrats but as an independent who wants love and dignity for everybody "instead of a sociopathic economic system that operates without a heart."

"I would be the happy if all my readers would donate as little as $5 to this campaign. In that case we would have more than enough money," Marianne said, finishing the evening with the kind of prayer you won't hear in Congress too often.

But why should I go on about Williamson's Gandhi-like campaign? Go to her own website and see for yourself. Marianne Williamson is just one of many visionaries who knows that it's last call for humankind. Something has to be done about our fading democracy where money has such an obscene influence on what happens in Washington. Passing a decent law here and there isn't enough. We need a series of earthquakes to jolt us out of our self-absorbed empathy - you don't have to be Mamas & Papas to see that.

The question is actually simple: What is going to win in the end?  Love and trust, or fear and surveillance?  Most of the media and the establishment will definitely laugh at Marianne Williamson. But no matter what you think of a movement like hers, independent candidates are on the rise. How could they not be when Congress and Obama are fighting like toddlers? 

But perhaps Marianne Williamson could lead the way in America. Now that would be A Course In Political Miracles indeed.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Learning Italian in Lucca: Calvino, Puccini, Vaffanculo. It's All Poetry To Me

During a short stay in Italy last month, I passed through Lucca in Toscany where it all started for me.

In the nineties I decided to do something I wanted since I was a kid: learn Italian. I suffered from depressions back then and since wine wasn't the answer, Italian had to be. Luckily I was right. The second I started to speak the most beautiful language in the world, clouds would evaporate in my head, beauty filled every cell in my body, and I came instantly alive, helped by the sun, the mountains, and the penne arrabbiata.

After half a year I could almost read Calvino and I could definitely shout vaffanculo. My writing became more vibrant, my digestion improved - how could it not since I was surrounded by saints, gelato, and language? Sometimes I would break down in gratitude, munching on words like melanzane and abbastanza, while getting high om condizionale. There was so much LIFE in Italy, so much forbidden fruit passing me on scooters, so much dirty linen hanging from lazy balconies, so many signs that blew me away: Campobasso, francobolli, caduta massi, all of them were poetry to me. The cities steeped in history reminded me of earlier incarnations as an actor in the Veneto region, a Franciscan monk in Urbino, and a mystic in Venezia.

At one point I dreamed of marrying Italy, but today I only want her as my mistress. I drop by as often as I can, knowing that all hill towns, lemon orchards, and mountain lakes will be in my blood until the day I die. In some ways I feel more Italian than Danish, except that I'm as impatient as most Scandinavians and I want things to work. But things don't really work in Italy. Italians thrive on chaos and temper tandrums, which is charming one month a year, not more. So come to think of it, I will keep my Danish passport for now...

Lucca is the prettiest town in Tuscana. Forget overrated Firenze, crowded Siena. touristy Pisa, and ridiculous San Gimigniano. They are all fine if you like Disneyland. No, Lucca is the real deal. It's quiet, sleepy, stylish, and magical at night when all the tourists have gone back to their cruise ships and the five star hotels in Florence.

The greatest thing about Lucca is that it doesn't have a single "important" thing that snobs have to see, except for Le Mura, the walls around the old city that may be the greatest place in Central Italy to walk your Schnauzer, or go for a jog. Lucca is a city for people who truly love Italy. But I'm only talking about centro storico, of course. Everything outside le mura is uninteresting and a little drab, except for a cute stream and a few good restaurants.

I started learning Italian at Koine in Via Mordini in 1994, came back several times the following years, continued my studies at E.St.Veneto in Feltre (a lovely place) and in Perugia where I survived the big earthquake and the chocolate. 

Around 2000 my Italian was pretty damn good, but now it has deteriorated because I live in America and can't drop by as often as I would like. But literary as I am, I still read Corriere dello Sport and Stefano Benni's short stories. I listen to Zucchero and Irene Grandi, admire the hell out of the films by Paolo Sorrentino, and I love the art of Canaletto and Andrea Pirlo. Italy is part of me and has given me so much joy and inspiration. At least four of my thirteen novels were partly written in one of the greatest countries on earth, the obscenely beautiful and delightfully dysfunctional Italia.

Take an Italian class in Italy. When I started I only knew how to say, due cappuccini, so there's hope for you as well.

Back in the early nineties in Rome where I only understood the football scores in the sports paper.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Rescue of the Danish Jews in October 1943: My Grandfather Was One of Them

Seventy years ago today, my Jewish grandfather David Huda escaped to neutral Sweden in the bottom of a fishing boat. He went off from Gilleleje in Northern Seeland in the middle of the night with eight others. The rescue was beautifully organized, and seven thousands Danish Jews got away during October 1943. 
Denmark has always taken pride in the fact that we saved 92% of our Jewish citizens. However, one of many reasons we were so successful was actually because of the Germans. Most of them weren't interested in catching the Jews, since there wasn't much anti-semitism to play into in Denmark. So the Wehrmacht made the  calculation that prosecuting the local Jews only would create more trouble in a country that finally had started to fight back against the German occupation.
Two weeks after my grandfather escaped, my Christian grandmother, uncle, and mother followed from Kalkbrænderihavnen in Copenhagen. My half-Jewish Mom was ten years old in October 1943, deadly scared that Gestapo or the German soldiers were going to find them. But everything went smoothly. They met up with my grandfather in a refugee camp in Molle, Scania (Skåne) and stayed in seven different places in Sweden until Denmark was liberated in May, 1945 by British and American soldiers.

Before the war, my family lived in Kibæk in rural Jutland. My grandfather was the only Jew in the  area, and definitely the only Christian Jew since he had been forcibly converted when he arrived from Palestine in 1906. 

In early 1943, my grandfather joined a small resistance group that hid English agents in their barns. He also was crazy enough to befriend a soldier from Vienna at the same time. Call it intuition because the German-Austrian soldier ended up helping my grandfather escape in October 1943. 
In 1998 I told David Huda's amazing life story in Drømmeren fra Palæstina (The Dreamer From Palestine). It was my first best seller in Denmark and was later translated into French as Le Reveur de Palestine (Gaia Editions, 2005). One day I hope it will come out in English and in many other languages as well.
Needless to say, I miss my whole family like crazy these days. They all survived the Second World War, but one of them died in June 1945. That story you can read as well in Drømmeren fra Palæstina. You can download the ebook (ebog) here from Arnold Busck in Danish.
My novelized biography from 1998 (Lindhardt & Ringhof) came out in five editions. The book sold out a long time ago, but it was re-released as an audiobook last year. You can download the Danish audiobook here and listen to it immediately
I presented the French edition at the book festival Litterature Europeenne Cognac in France in 2006. I still count that as one of my greatest moments as a novelist.  You can still buy the French edition from Gaia Editions on Amazon.

 My mother Marie Søndergaard Huda in Dalarne, Sweden in late 1944. 
My grandmother Marie Angelique Søndergaard Huda and my mother half a year before the German occupation. 

 David Huda wrote his own life story in 1950 called Fra Haifa til Hammerum Herred. Funnily enough, my novelized biography from 1998 was much closer to the truth than his own autobiography, because my grandfather chose to leave out some of the most dramatic and painful events. I put them in which was important to my mother as well.
I partly based The Dreamer from Palestine on his book, my mother's recollection, and most of all, my own imagination. There were so many holes and half-truths in my grandfather's story that I used it as a template to write an epic novel about one of 20th century Denmark's first immigrants. But I'm still loyal to what actually happened in Safed, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Kibæk, Herning, Copenhagen, and Sweden during my maternal granddad's 82 years on planet earth.
God bless you David, Erik, Marie, and Marie. I hope you read this blog wherever you are.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homage to Indie Book Stores Everywhere. What Would We Do Without You?

In a small town on Spanish Ibiza, there's a small book store called Libro Azul. Earlier this summer, I went there with a friend to buy her a small gift. My first choice going in was Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, followed by The Magus by John Fowles, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami (Arundhati Roi's The God of Small Things or Olga Tokarczuk's House of Day, House of Night would be great, too)

I knew it was a long shot that a small indie store would have those books in English. I expected a bland soup of Da Vinci Codes, 1001 Shades of Gray, and icy Swedish thrillers where even the prose has been viciously beheaded. My friend and I walked straight to the small English section that consisted of about three hundred books, and to my shock this small independent book store in sleepy Santa Gertrudis on Ibiza had the first three!

That's right. Out of three hundred books in English, Siddharta, The Magus, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle were all there!

"What a fantastic selection you have," I said to the owner, trying hard not to hug him to death and shower him with the kind of atrocious kisses you would expect from deranged novelists.

"I want people to read good stuff," he said with a shrug, "so when they ask for a bad book, I try to convince them to buy a good one." He picked up The Big Book of Pussy that was lying on the front desk for all kids to see. "With a few exceptions, of course," he added with a big smile.

A few minutes later we walked out of the store, with the firm belief that independent book stores will survive absolutely everything, including cockroaches and who knows, maybe even Amazon?

A young reader dreaming of Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking?  What would she do in a world devoid of small indie book stores that prefer pulp from the sublime?  Even kids can't be online all the time. So I've been told, anyway.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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

Please don't be cruel to Robert Mugabe.

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 aging dictator who may or may not become Dictator of the Century in Zimbabwe at this year's election.

To tell you the truth, no matter what happens 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. Too many vicious people are making fun of this proud leader who has never lost an election. Even when he has lost an election.

Let me mention some of those people that humiliated him not that long ago: 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 and if He doesn't win the elections, He still wins the elections. That's why He is so loved by His people.

By the way, Robert Mugabe didn't like that play back in 2008. 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. Adolf Hitler never laughed at Charles Chaplin, and Osama bin-Laden wasn't too fond of Jon Stewart, only American porn. These are facts whether you like them or not!

So back in 2008, Robert Mugabe sent 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, which is 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, or create religious cults instead of telling lies about this Glorious Incarnation of Light.

As I said, Robert Mugabe is a sensitive dictator. And maybe He sleeps a little better when plays like that close down. Maybe He's even proud that this election will be a little less rigged than the ones before?

So have a little compassion, have a little heart. Not for Zimbabwe but for Roberto Mugabe. The poor man had a difficult childhood. So why shouldn't the rest of his people?


Rewritten blog from 2008. 

This entry is dedicated to the brave people of Zimbabwe who have the courage to laugh through tyranny, and to organizations like American and Danish PEN that tirelessly work for protecting the freedom of speech in countries like Zimbabwe. I'm proud to be a member of both. The brilliant cartoon above is all over the net, but I haven't been able to find out who the artist is.