The Dwarf

You are walking down the street when someone suddenly grabs you by the collar, recites a story with quivering intensity and lets you go. More than an year later, you still fell the intensity of the story even through you may not recall the words. That’s my experience of reading Pär Lagerkvist‘s book “The Dwarf”. I have never had such an experience from a book and most possibly never will.

I’ll leave the summery of the plot to the capable paws of Wikipedia. From a reader’s experience, the frightening aspect of this book is it demonstrates of how a cruel personality can present itself as charismatic, sympathetic, even likeable.

The book is a first person narration by the main/title character – a Dwarf in the court of a fictitious prince in renaissance Italy. the character has endured a cruel life when the book opens. He is treated as a sub human curiosity by society. The daily indignities of his life makes it very easy for us to feel sympathetic. He is also a blunt speaker with interesting and provocative world views. This gives an impression of honesty and integrity that is initially admirable.

Yet it becomes quite clear that this initially admirable character is a sociopath. The fanatical manner of his narration creates an unmistakable manifestation of Hitler, twitching away at the microphone of a Nazi rally. There is something particularly chilling in the way the main character revels in the suffering of others. Particularly his righteous justifications of killings and glorification of ultimately stalemated wars.

My descriptions are obviously sweeping generalisations. In the book they communicated to you in very personal, efficiently vivid detailed twists in the narrative. In the hands of a lesser author, the title character would flatten into an easily hateable caricature. Lars injects careful layers of sympathetic detail to make the Dwarf something much more complicated.

I am obviously not a literary critic. Just a dim, weak willed reader easily suckered by good writing. If you have read this book, what was your experience of it?

Not the 600th post I expected but such is the way of the voices.


11 thoughts on “The Dwarf

  1. Just wondering:
    Did the dwarf also have a mustache?
    Most weird guys seem to sport one … 😉
    Is there any present day equivalent implied?


    1. 😆 interestingly, the book doesn’t mention the dwarf character having a musto. Certainly can’t think of a present day character. I think the book was written very much with Hitler in mind…


  2. Congrats on 600 posts! 🙂
    The book I have not read but I doubt if I will have time. In any case, there are many dwarfs out there today. Thinking further, I assume we all are a bit of dwarfs, thriving on grief of others, at least in minuscule ways.
    But now I know the book, I don’t want to read it, In any case I just fot “Anathem” by Niel Stephenson, which speaks of a place; “a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone”
    If you come across “The Baroque Cycle”, grab all three of the books, the best I read in a long time which took me a long time!


  3. Thanks for the book review, it sounds great. Something in the air in Europe between the two Wars seems to have produced some of their literature – Kafka, Orwell and Gunter Grass for example. May be the sheer calamaity of it all. This stuff lingers on and on.

    I will track it down. Two best charismatic ‘evil’ people I met recently have been narrators in Arvind Adagar’s White Tiger and Vikram Chandra’s Scared Games.

    Thank you for keeping at it.

    I am due to return to Sri Lanka from my 29+ year exile in the principal city in the Heart of Darkness in a few months, I’m keeping up my spirits through your posts!


  4. magerata: Thank you 🙂 specially for the Niel Stephenson reference! Been a while since I ploughed happily through “In the Beginning was the Command Line”. I think I did start on one of the The Baroque Cycle books (can’t recall which one) but it fizzled out on me. How is “Anathem” turning out?

    Chamira: Glad you found this one interesting 😀 Never did think of the narrator in White Tiger as an evil personality but I can see your point. Also you point about the Euro lit between the wars is another eye opener.

    Angel: Thank you 😀


  5. Me-shak: You are Vel cum 😀 All the best with your exams.

    Kirigalpoththa: Thank you 🙂 You’ll get there before you know it and we’ll know of 600+ cool places in Sri Lanka (there’s bound to be more)


Say something

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s