November 12, 2012
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
First sentence: "Being a court dwarf is no easy task."
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It's the late 1599, and Jepp is a sixteen-year-old dwarf, which is not a good thing to be during that time and in Amsterdam. While he has a mother who loves him and allows him to learn, he's not really treated very well, and when a man he comes to call Don comes by the humble inn where Jepp lives to take him to the Infanta's court in Brussels.
There, Jepp learns that his fate is much more precarious than he would have assumed. He's expected to perform every night for the Infanta and her court, doing things that would demean any man. Jepp, of course, chafes at this: he wants more out of life, wants to create his own fate as opposed to letting the whims of people determine who he is to be.
He falls in love with another dwarf, Lia, and when she becomes pregnant (not Jepp's kid) they attempt to flee Brussels. Unfortunately, they are betrayed, and Jepp is thrown into prison and given (sold?) to Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer. Initially, Jepp is treated much as he was at the Infanta's (bonus points for the drunken moose; which is actually a true fact: Brahe did have a moose as a pet!), but eventually is able to prove his worth, and find love.
This is a quiet, introspective novel, one that weaves historical facts with a story that resonated with me, at least. While I don't think much happened plot-wise (there are several back stories that never get fully illuminated), the book does tend to make one thing about fate versus what you can actually achieve on your own. Jepp is a truly compelling character, one with spunk and pluck and a truly admirable drive given the discrimination he faced in his time. It's a testament to the power of a personality.
Overall, it's a bit uneven -- the beginning was slow, and I enjoyed the Tycho Brahe chapters most -- and all the characters tend to have the same voice. Even with those drawbacks, I found it to be a wonderful bit of historical fiction.