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:

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