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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eva Gabrielsson's There Are Things I Want You To Know

The full title of the book is "There Are Things I want You To Know About Stieg Larsson and Me" and if you've not followed the huge controversy related to the Millennium Trilogy I'll fill you in...

From his 20s until his death, Stieg Larsson was a journalist and the organizer behind Sweden's magazine Expo, dedicated to exposing White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups operating in Sweden and elsewhere. He and his partner, Eva Gabrielsson, spent much of their adult lives protecting themselves and being protected by the police against death threats from these groups. Expo's originally publisher dropped the magazine after (I think) 3 issues because of the threats leveled against their offices and staff. The point being, Stieg Larsson was as committed as a person can be to exposing and fighting White Supremacy groups and the people who privately funded their campaigns of hate and murder in and around Sweden.

Stieg Larsson's books know in America as "The Millenium Trilogy" and in their original language as "Men Who Hate Women" grew out of Larsson's own concern for the high rate (sadly, very close to America's own) of unreported or unresolved man on woman violence in Sweden. He created his own avenging angel in Lizbeth Salander, and set her free to wreak havok on a system that oppressed her, her mother and friends like the other hero of the books, Mikail Bloomkvist.  The Millenium Trilogy was meant to be a 10 book series, and at the time of Larsson's death (a heart attack around the age of 53, the same approximate age and cause of death as his mother and his maternal grandfather) a fourth book was being written. 

I want to talk just a bit about the books, only because I have such strong feelings about the series and I know there are still some people out there who haven't read them. First, I want to acknowledge that the violence in these books is extreme and some (but not actually very much of it) is graphic sexual violence. This series is not for someone who can't read about such things, mostly because I think Larsson is utterly successful in removing any sense that rape could be anything other than a violent, hateful violation. The reading of it certainly scars the reader. I think it's extreme enough that people who really can't bring themselves to read this sort of thing should just stay away from it (or skip that part, with the help of another reader who could just mark off the relevant pages to be skipped over). That's also some of the power of Larsson's writing...he accurately and with out glamorizing anything depicts violence as a bad thing that leaves no heroes, no "badasses". Even the mighty Lizbeth is felled for the entire second book by a single bullet and some rough fighting. No heroes, just survivors. At the same time, Larsson wrote some compelling mystery/ thriller/ political espionage (each book has it's own sub-genre nod) that will engage readers to the point of forgoing food and sleep to keep going. While Lizbeth is not (and is never portrayed as) a role-model, neither is the anti-hero Batman, a tortured, emotionally fractured, extremely violent man dressed as a bat with a utility belt. Nonetheless, it's hugely satisfying to watch the Caped Crusader take justice and vengeance into his own hands. So it is with Ms. Salander. She's the terrifying tale oppressors, corrupt government officials, rapists and racists whisper in each other's ears. It's not real, as a matter of fact, never in human history has it been more clear that we as a world-wide culture have no boogey man to send after the powerful, abusive rich. But the vicarious thrill of watching Lizbeth and Mikail set the world right is so satisfying, it almost makes watching the nightly news bearable. 

So on to the book I'm actually reviewing...Product Details

At the time of Steig Larsson's death he had been Eva Gabrielsson's life partner for 30 plus years. The books were entering publication, but no one had any idea what the scope of the series would become. Steig Larsson had not have much, if any contact with his living relations, a brother and father, and he was not legally married to Gabrielsson (interestingly, if they'd had a child together this detail would be irrelevant). The fourth book was more than halfway outlined and partially written and is (still) on a laptop owned by Expo magazine along with Larsson's political writings and his list of informants and sources (which are protected from seizure by laws that protect journalist sources) Everything that I'm going to mention going forward is entirely in dispute and entirely taken from Gabrielsson's version of events.

Gabrielsson's book covers her own childhood and what little Larsson shared with her (both had abandonment issues and chose to focus more on the future than the past) and then focuses on their 30 years together. The final chapters cover the immense legal issues surrounding Larsson's property and the rights to the Millenium books. Here's the basic dispute: Gabrielsson and Larsson, unmarried, have no legal rights to each other's property. By the letter of the law that's pretty much it. Gabrielsson contends that they had planned to get married but between their busy lives, the threat of more danger to Eva if she was connected via paperwork to Stieg, and the hassle of required paperwork made this something they simply put off, always thinking they had more time. At the time of Steig's death, Eva says that he was planning to set up a company they would share in equally that all book royalties would be paid to and all rights to future books assigned to as well, so if one of them was to die the other would take over all money and rights as co-owner of the company. The company, like the official marriage, was something never gotten around to.

Several friends of Larsson's, as well as his father and brother had insisted that Gabrielsson was simply a mistress, and on-again-off again lover with an interest in the massive payday associated with the books. Gabrielsson has always insisted that the money is not at all the issue (and has in fact refused a number of huge payoffs from the family to drop her fight for rights to the works) but the integrity of Larsson's work is her concern. She also refuses to release the fourth book in it's unfinished format to the family, stating her concern that it would not be finished in a way that Larsson would approve (by the way, the working title of book four is The Vengeance of God).

I don't normally follow these legal things, I like books enough to not ruin them with real life...but in this case I had a chance to pick up a copy of Gabrielsson's version of events (signed by her!) and I was just too curious to find out what she would say to miss it. Readers will either believe her or not, but I was compelled by her arguments and I'm going to go so far as to explain why:

1) She's not a good writer. She could be simply the best and most manipulative writer EVER but since she's an architect by trade, I doubt it. She is plain spoken, she is blunt. There is simply no artifice and a rather painful earnestness to her words. Her passion for her work and for Steig's work and for him as a person is plain on every page.

2) She's never made a money grab (that I can find). For two years, unsure of her ownership of the house she and Steig co-owned at his death, she lived out of boxes. Her legal defense fund was set up fairly recently by a third party. She never went to the tabloids or the media for a paid interview. Even the book, which obviously she will profit from, isn't about how wronged she is or how bad other people are, it's about how fervently she wants to guard the legacy of her life partner from being used for financial gain. Of course there is anger, but also forgiveness and sadness.

3) She won't release the fourth book for any amount of money, but she has repeatedly said she will release it if she can finish it herself, following what she knew to be Steig's explicit wishes and values.

The book was a short, but affecting read. I cried when Gabrielsson discussed the last days of her relationship and the pain she felt at Larsson's death. I was stirred when she talked about their commitment to human rights causes, and I just started to re-read the Trilogy at the heart of the whole issue just because reading this book reminded my why the series is so compelling. I recommend this book heartily, and while I feel strongly about the veracity of Eva Gabrielsson's claims I encourage readers to draw their own conclusions and share their thoughts with my in the comments below.

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