Friday, February 17, 2012

The Tattooed Girl by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg

Love it or hate it, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series has a ubiquitous presence not only in pop culture but also in political theory, feminist theory and Swedish tourism, as illustrated by The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of Our Time. Complied by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer and Larsson’s friend and colleague John-Henri Holmberg, this ought to be required reading for fans of the series, as it not only provides trivia behind the publication and translation of the three novels; it also explores in depth the social and political context in which they were written.

Made up of essays and critical evaluations, the book is divided into four parts: “The Man Who Conquered the World,” about Larsson himself; “The Climate is Cold, the Nights are Long, the Liquor is Hard and the Curtains are Drawn,” which is about the history of Scandinavian crime noir and its integration into Western markets; “How Stig Became Stieg: An Intimate Portrait,” which details significant events of Larsson’s life, including his changing his name; and “The Millennium Files,” which summarizes various themes and motifs within the series and concludes the book with a timeline of Larsson’s life and career. The many contributing authors are journalists, feminists, book critics, editors, interviewers, and close friends of Larsson, covering a wide range of contextual material within scholarly and philosophical treatises.

Several essays reveal Larsson’s lifelong love of science fiction, and one provides summaries of his earlier writings: short stories published in sci-fi magazines long before the Millennium trilogy came into being. Many essays contain polarizing views, such as those providing both praise and criticism for the feminist sensibilities of Larsson’s work. One essayist analyzes the translated versions from Swedish to English, which leave out key passages and thereby shortchange a large part of the fan base. Still others assess the portrayal of the infamous Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptations, and contemplate what her popularity among readers bodes for a future of strong female characters.

Larsson himself is consistently portrayed as a deeply committed and socially conscious journalist dedicated to exposing corruption and fighting injustice at the risk of his life, as he was often a target of Neo-Nazis and other extremist groups. Firsthand accounts of his vivacious personality and passion for social justice reveal the elements of his belief system and political leanings that were integrated into his written work.

In short, fans of Lisbeth Salander should not miss this one, for they have only skimmed the surface of an endlessly multifaceted series that is both aesthetically and socially relevant. Also recommended is the fan blog based on the book, which provides the latest information on the upcoming films, and other such updates:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Confessions of a Privileged Arab-American Woman

Here's a sample from The Tattooed Girl (which you may or may not have already read) about Fadime Sahindal, whose death Stieg Larsson wrote about in his essays on violence against women:
On January 21, 2002, twenty-six-year-old Fadime Sahindal was shot to death by her father in Uppsala. She had left her Kurdish family after refusing to submit to their views on morality. Se had become a public figure after giving a speech to the Swedish Parliament about the plight of young women in many immigrant families. Her father said that she had dishonored her family by openly criticizing its morality and flaunting her independence, leaving him no choice but to kill her. Her murder was also a reminder of the 1999 killing of nineteen-year-old Pela Atroshi by two of her uncles.
Every now and then a news headline about the appalling treatment of women and girls in the Middle East catches my eye. They often involve honor killings, child marriage, women being forced to marry their rapists, women being publicly flogged or beheaded on suspicion of witchcraft; the list is endless. Besides making me sad and angry, stories such as those often make me ashamed of my Arab heritage.

Sometimes I wonder, how can I be proud of my origins while such things are happening in that part of the world? Who wants to claim an identity that’s long been associated with such savagery? Eventually I came to think that maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Instead of being ashamed of my origins, perhaps I should be counting my blessings.

Compared to many other Arab women, I live a pretty privileged life. By assembling a list of said privileges, I hope to learn how to consider myself lucky, rather than be wholly frustrated with such injustices.

I am

…allowed to vote

…allowed to drive

…free to pursue an education

…free to pursue an education in the field of my choosing

…free to choose my own significant other without fear of being subject to an honor killing by my father, uncle or brother

…not expected to marry young, serve a man and bear sons for him

I can

…go out in public without being supervised by a male member of my family

…live on my own, without the help of a man, and not be branded a prostitute

…buy and wear the clothes I want

If I were raped:

I would not be obligated to marry the man

I would not be reprimanded for bringing shame upon the family

I would be given medical aid for my physical and mental state

Needless to say I have much to be grateful for. Obviously, since I live in America, I have no control over what goes on in the Middle East, and how women are treated there. I can write about it, I can spread awareness, I can donate money in an attempt to make it all better; but ultimately the best thing I can do is take pride in what I am and not take my privileges for granted, even while I struggle with a mixed sense of pride and scorn for Arab culture.

As we all know, Lisbeth herself is not the activist type. She's not likely to bother herself with the treatment of other women unless she's personally confronted with it. She focuses on herself, on surviving the life that she lives, and in doing so embodies the strength and independence associated with feminism. She becomes fabulously wealthy and isn't afraid to indulge and invest in her own well-being, hence the tropical vacations and the swanky apartment she buys. Certainly she's not so personally consumed with the injustices in the world that she lets it affect the way she lives her life. I, on the other hand, tend to obsess over the injustices in the world and end up neglecting myself and what's going on in my own backyard.

If you make it a priority to be aware of human rights violations on a global scale, my advice is this: don’t be so consumed with righting wrongs that you lose sight of your own life and neglect to take stock of your privileges. Balance your sense of justice with a sense of self, and realize that appreciation for what you have is more constructive than any righteous fury you may feel.

Review: There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me

Being one of the millions of readers fervently hoping for a fourth installment of the Millennium series, naturally I took to this memoir for a few answers. Written by the widow of novelist Stieg Larsson—the man behind the notorious Girl With the Dragon TattooThere Are Things I Want You to Know about Stieg Larsson and Me by Eva Gabrielsson is more than the inside story of one of biggest names in crime fiction; it’s a love story of epic proportions; a compelling, intimate portrait of two soul mates with a shared world vision and commitment to fighting for human rights.

The book chronicles Stieg and Eva’s respective childhoods, and how they rose from humble beginnings, met at a political rally in their late teens, and for the next thirty-two years, would be life partners and collaborators; a politically-charged, socially conscious couple and a force to be reckoned with. Stieg incorporated many aspects of his life into his novels, which Eva contributed to. They worked together on their political magazine, Expo, and when Stieg began receiving death threats from ultra-nationalist groups for his writings, the couple took measures to protect themselves, which included avoiding being seen together in public and abstaining from marriage and other such institutions that would legally bind them together.

Details of Stieg’s upbringing provide much enlightenment on the man behind the Millennium trilogy: how he was rejected as an infant by his parents and raised in by his country-dwelling grandparents; and how the traditional values of this older generation shaped his own worldviews. Following Stieg’s death, Gabrielsson would bear the brunt of the bad blood between him and his family, as his father and brother greedily bid to claim his estate and intellectual property and deprive his livelong companion of her share.

Gabrielsson writes with great candor as well as affection for the man she loved for most of her life. Throughout their fights and their estrangements, and despite Stieg’s workaholic tendencies, their bond always endured. She reveals their mutual love of science fiction, their passion for sailing, the locations they travelled together that are featured in his novels, and the dialogue between them that Stieg used for his characters. Through use of examples, Gabrielsson leaves no doubt that she was a significant contributor as well as supporter of Stieg’s literary ambitions.

Fans of the Millennium trilogy will find more than what they’re looking for with this book. More than just a tell-all or an exposé, There Are Things I Want You to Know is a deeply moving homage to a dedicated journalist, activist and remarkable storyteller. With so many falsities being published these days by those wanting to capitalize on his success, Gabrielsson’s account has an authentic and heartfelt quality, and is the one fans should be picking up.