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The Dwarf (1944)

by Pär Lagerkvist

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9802415,988 (4.01)36
"I have noticed that sometimes I frighten people; what they really fear is themselves. They think it is I who scare them, but it is the dwarf within them, the ape-faced manlike being who sticks up his head from the depths of their souls." Pär Lagerkvist's richly philosophical novelThe Dwarf is an exploration of individual and social identity. The novel, set in a time when Italian towns feuded over the outcome of the last feud, centers on a social outcast, the court dwarf PIccoline. From his special vantage point Piccoline comments on the court's prurience and on political intrigue as the town is gripped by a siege. Gradually, Piccoline is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, and he inspires fear and hate around him as he grows to represent the fascination of the masses with violence.… (more)
  1. 00
    W, or The Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec (Mouseear)
    Mouseear: Where Lagerkvist investigates the possibilities of pure evil on an individual level, Perec examines the next step; when it becomes the foundation of an entire society. Both are dark allegories of the Nazi ideology and how it affects perpetrator and victim. Both are beautiful.… (more)
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» See also 36 mentions

English (19)  Swedish (3)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
There are only a small handful of books that I consider masterpieces. "The Dwarf" by Pars Lagerkvist is one of them. The book, written in the format of a diary, is short, easy to read, and complete. Even several weeks after finishing it, I keep thinking about the title character.

It is set in the Italian Renaissance, a period of great artistic progress, but also a period of war and court intrigue. The title character is a member of a large, influential palace in a city-state. Although he has some interactions with some of the main characters, he is largely an observer, telling stories through his own, fascinating point of view.

He is an angry man who believes that he is of a different "race" than the rest of humanity. That belief - his apartness - festers in him. He finds so much about humanity to be detestable: the way people eat, the way they create art, the way they make love, and the way they worship. Given how he was probably brought up and how he is treated in the court, it is understandable that he would believe as such. Plot developments in the book are vehicles to show his personality and his antipathy for people.

Readers can game out that some of the characters are actual historic figures in actual historic places. After reading it, I looked up some of the history of Milan during the city-state period, but what I learned added little value to my understanding of this brilliant book. That suggests a certain timeless quality.

Today, an interpretation of the book should point out that by rendering a minority (in this case, a person of short stature) in such an angry, violent, and antipathetic way is one-dimensional. As I continue to think about the title character though, I understand why Lagerkvist gives him these qualities.

Many early reviewers claim that "The Dwarf" is Lagerkvist's attempt to create a fully evil character. This might be true, but there were many instances where the character could commit evil acts, but choses not to through inaction. There are also suggestions by reviewers that the character might actually be the Machiavellian prince. I prefer to think that the character has simple antipathy for the world around him.

Alexandra Dick, the English translator, seems to have done a wonderful job. The language is even and unambiguous, which I assume was Lagerkvist's intention. It is a brilliant book. ( )
  mvblair | Sep 30, 2020 |
I really liked this one!

Historical fiction, set in Renaissance-era Italy, with squabbling city-states and courtly intrigues as the backdrop. The narrator, a dwarf kept as a curiosity by a local lord, has rejected all connections to humanity, and views everything and everyone else with barely-concealed hatred and disgust. Absolutely no-one he’s ever met has treated him in any other way than as a despicable non-human, and so he keeps himself aloof, separate from the accursed human race.

The narrator is unapologetically and just so delightfully evil. Early on in the book, to establish his character, Lagerkvist has him kill a kitten, just to hurt the child whose pet it is. As the novel progresses, and his lord’s ambitions soar, he delights in wreaking underhanded havoc, revels vicariously in crude bloodshed, and spews his indiscriminate revulsion at any and all.

It’s one of those books where the main character would be an awesome villain in someone else’s story, and where the story is one of things going from bad to worse for a fascinatingly evil main character, such that you enjoy the destruction while at the same time kinda rooting for and admiring them. ( )
  Petroglyph | Jun 21, 2018 |
This was a great book, very fun. ( )
  billt568 | Sep 5, 2017 |
This was a great book, very fun. ( )
  William-Tucker | Oct 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pär Lagerkvistprimary authorall editionscalculated
Baars-Jelgersma, GretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dick, AlexandraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ravn, RolvTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am twenty-six inches tall, shapely and well proportioned, my head perhaps a trifle too large.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"I have noticed that sometimes I frighten people; what they really fear is themselves. They think it is I who scare them, but it is the dwarf within them, the ape-faced manlike being who sticks up his head from the depths of their souls." Pär Lagerkvist's richly philosophical novelThe Dwarf is an exploration of individual and social identity. The novel, set in a time when Italian towns feuded over the outcome of the last feud, centers on a social outcast, the court dwarf PIccoline. From his special vantage point Piccoline comments on the court's prurience and on political intrigue as the town is gripped by a siege. Gradually, Piccoline is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, and he inspires fear and hate around him as he grows to represent the fascination of the masses with violence.

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Pär Lagerkvist's richly philosophical novel The Dwarf is an exploration of individual and social identity. The novel, set in a time when Italian towns feuded over the outcome of the last feud, centers on a social outcast, the court dwarf Piccoline. From his special vantage point Piccoline comments on the court's prurience and on political intrigue as the town is gripped by a siege. Gradually, Piccoline is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, and he inspires fear and hate around him as he grows to represent the fascination of the masses with violence.
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