Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf

Written by David Madsen
Review by Alan Fisk

This is one of a series of books that Dedalus are reissuing in a “Hall of Fame” series to mark their 30th anniversary. Faithful to the title, these are indeed the memoirs of Giuseppe (“Peppe”) Amadonelli, a dwarf born in the squalid Trastevere district of Rome in 1478, who grows up to become a chamberlain and confidant of Pope Leo X, while nevertheless at the same time being a devoted adherent of the heresy of Gnosticism. To cut a long story short, Gnosticism holds that the physical world is ruled by Satan, and that we must free ourselves of the flesh to reach God.

Peppe’s position and unorthodox religious views involve him in tragedy and violence that strike both him and others. Spending several years performing a disgusting act nightly in a freak show is perhaps the least of it, while he is inspired by his love for his Gnostic guide Laura and his hatred of the Inquisitor Tommaso della Croce.

In spite of the amount of horror and pain in Peppe’s life, there is a lot of fun in this novel too, even if it is not the “good clean fun” that the Disney comic books used to promise. If you can get past the opening scene without running for a bucket, you should be all right.

The writing is of high quality, although marred by many untranslated quotations in Latin and Italian. Recommended for readers who like an eventful and fascinating read, if they have strong stomachs.