Swedish Travesty of Justice

Eva Gabrielsson met Stieg Larsson?the celebrated author of The Millennium Trilogy?in 1972, at an anti-Vietnam war meeting. They lived together for thirty years, until the time of his death in 2005, shortly before any of the novels were published. They never married, though they had planned to once his novels brought them economic stability. Before that time, when Stieg edited Expo, which exposed right-wing fascism in Sweden, and there were constant threats on his life. The two of them feared that the marriage records would make it easy for right-wing fanatics to identify where they lived and possibly go after her.

Eva was a trained architect, Stieg a journalist with less formal education. Both had been born in the northern part of Sweden, 600 away from Stockholm where in the winter there were only thirty-five minutes of daylight. Metaphorically, that darkness permeates much of Larsson’s fiction. Stieg was raised by his grandfather, a man with strong Old Testament values.

Expo had always been erratically funded, surviving from issue to issue. Gabrielsson provides this chilling context: “In the 1990s, more than a dozen people were murdered in Sweden for political reasons by individuals involved with neo-Nazi groups. S?po?the Security Service, an arm of the Swedish National Police?estimates that during 1998 alone, there were more than two thousand unprotected racist attacks, more than half of which can be directly linked to neo-Nazi militants in White Power groups.”

Some of the fanatics obtained the telephone number of the apartment Stieg and Eva shared. They received anonymous calls, so they installed a security system. Bullets were sent to Stieg in the mail. Anyone who has read The Millennium Trilogy understands the context. Gabrielsson remarks that nothing in the three novels was made up: all the murders, the violence, and the extremism were based on actual events. Interestingly, Stieg saw the arrival of the Internet as an obvious concern. He wanted it regulated like other media. “For racist groups,” he said, “cyberspace is a dream.”

Larsson began writing his novels in 2002. His strong Lutheran upbringing (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) shaped his writing. Gabrielsson refers to this as “the dilemma between morality and action.” “Individuals change the world and their fellow human beings for better or for worse, but each of us acts according to his or her own sense of morality, which is why everything comes down in the end to personal responsibility. The trilogy allowed Stieg to denounce everyone he loathed for their cowardice, their irresponsibility, their opportunism: couch-potato activists, sunny-day warriors, fair-weather skippers who pick and choose their causes; false friends who used him to advance their own careers; unscrupulous company heads and shareholders who wangle themselves huge bonuses?. Seen in this light, Stieg couldn’t have had any better therapy for what ailed his soul than writing his novels.” No surprise that the trilogy’s phenomenal success in the United States has paralleled the country’s rampant greed and opportunism, our increasing economic disparity.

Some readers of Gabrielsson’s book may accuse her of being self-serving, but that is too narrow a response. She shows how Stieg drew on her architectural and geographical background when he chose the settings and places for his novels. Because the two of them sailed and knew the country’s many islands, these locations often entered into the narratives. Their travels (particularly Grenada) operated the same way. Eva read the drafts that Stieg wrote and edited them. She was intimately involved in the construction of the novels, though she had her own career, which, sadly, in the last couple of years of Stieg’s life, required her to work 150 miles away from him several days a week. Though she doesn’t say this, she had clearly read every scrap of his writing?his journalism and his fiction?for thirty years, was intimately connected to his writing life. They had always had a difficult time economically.

Then Stieg died, suddenly from a heart attack. And then even though they had lived together for most of their lives, because they had no children, the National Swedish Institute of Statistics classified Eva as “single,” not legally heir to Stieg’s estate. Instead, the estate fell to Stieg’s father, Erland, and his brother, Joakim, two people with whom he had almost no connections, other than biological.

The rest is pretty much a horror story. Eva Gabrielsson has spent several years trying to get Stieg’s brother and their father to assign her control of Stieg’s literary estate?not the royalties?but the intellectual property. This is her reason: “I do not want his name to be an industry or a brand. The way things are going, what’s to stop me from one day seeing his name on a bottle of beer, a packet of coffee, or a car? I don’t want his struggles and ideals to be sullied and exploited. I know how he would react in every situation I’m facing today: he would fight.” The two “official” heirs have treated her shamelessly, even proposing at one time that the only way she could manage his literary estate would be by marrying Erland, Stieg’s father. What kind of monsters can these people be?

Gazillions of dollars have fallen into the hands of Stieg Larsson’s brother and father from the massive royalties of his books (and the movies). Erland and Joakim have become clones of the villains of Stieg Larsson’s novels?loathsome people the Swedish novelist will never be able to depict in his work.

“There Are Things I Want You to Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me.
By Eva Gabrielsson (with Marie-Fran?oise Colombani)
Trans. from the French by Linda Coverdale.
Seven Stories Press, 224 pp., $23.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.


Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.