The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those runaway best-sellers you see everywhere–on the street, in the subway, in airports. It was the first of three books–the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, has just been released here in the States–by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish left-winged journalist-turned-novelist. The Millennium Triology have been an international sensation but the story behind the books may be equally as compelling. Larsson died before the books were published and his long-time companion has been in a painful fight against Larsson’s father and younger brother.
Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson’s partner, has been portrayed sympathetically in all the accounts I’ve read of the story; she doesn’t come across as the villain in Charles McGrath’s fine–and fair–piece in yesterday’s Magazine, but Larson’s father and brother are not demonized either:
The Larssons do not strike me as greedy people. They drive small, inexpensive cars and live in modest apartments, and if they wanted to change their lifestyle they would probably have to do it somewhere other than Umea, where conspicuous consumption is frowned upon. I got the impression, in fact, that Stieg’s estate was a burden, a weighty responsibility they weren’t prepared for, perhaps didn’t feel quite up to and are still trying to figure out. Joakim gave me a long explanation, which I couldn’t quite follow, of why the Swedish tax laws make it hard to give money away, and yet slowly they have begun to do so, recently donating five million kronor, or $660,000, to Expo, the magazine Stieg co-founded.
…But ultimately the dispute is really about Stieg Larsson himself, an exceptional young man, idealistic and artistic, who in classic fashion left the boondocks and made something of himself in the wider world. Who was he, really — a Norrlander or a Stockholmer? And who gets to claim him now? The emotional stakes on both sides are huge. No matter how close he was or wasn’t to his family, he was clearly a central figure to them — someone to be admired and cherished — as he was to Gabrielsson. The tragedy is that they can’t figure out a way to share him.
[Photo Credit: Lars Tunbjork for The New York Times]