Last week, The Tattooed Girl co-author Dan Burstein talked to Liz French of RT Book Reviews about Stieg Larsson and The Tattooed Girl. Begin reading the conversation below; the rest will appear in our next post.
BY RT BOOK REVIEWS, JULY 20, 2011
Stieg Larsson mania continues, with speculation about the late author’s “lost fourth book” and film adaptations from both Sweden and the United States (the first U.S. film is scheduled for a December release). Fans of Larsson and his trilogy will certainly want to check out the new nonfiction title, The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of Our Time by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer and John-Henri Holmberg. In our September issue of RT BOOK REVIEWS magazine, RT’s Managing Editor Liz French excerpted Dan Burstein’s answers to her emailed questions about the book; here is the complete, unedited Q&A with the author.
LF: Normally my first question would be, WHY cover this author and his books, but it’s a no-brainer — megabestseller, tragic early death, contentious heirs, kick-ass heroine, etc. But I would like to hear how you came around to liking the series so much that you devoted a book to it.
Dan Burstein: I had actually managed to avoid The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when it first came out, thinking it was some violent, troubled, tattooed girl’s coming of age story that was not particularly relevant to my life. Then, in May 2010, an old family friend from California visited with my wife and myself in New York. This is a woman whose humanistic, aesthetic, intellectual and literary values I have admired for the 50 years I have known her, since the days when she and my mother were in literary book groups together. She was shocked that we had not read these books and started to tell me about her fascination with the Lisbeth Salander character and with some of the intriguing facts about Stieg Larsson’s biography. On her recommendation, we immediately read all three books. I was riveted by Lisbeth, who I have referred to in our book as the 21st-century continuation of characters like Huck Finn in the 19th century and Holden Caulfield in the 20th century. I also developed a great interest in all the political, social, psychological, cultural and gender issues raised by Larsson’s trilogy. Within two weeks after reading the opening scene of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I knew I would want to create a guidebook in the format of our prior “Secrets” series books–and thus was born The Tattooed Girl, which has just been published by St. Martin’s.
LF: Tell me a little bit about your research for your book. Did it entail any travel to Sweden? If so, did you visit the locations he mentions in the books, or visit his old haunts?
DB: Yes, we (myself, my co-author, Arne de Keijzer, and our spouses Julie and Helen) visited Sweden and did extensive interviewing there. We visited many of the locations where important scenes in the Larsson books are set. I wrote a piece for The Tattooed Girl called “The Moral Geography of Stieg Larsson,” (which appears in chapter 11). This part of the book takes our readers on the walking tour of Stockholm to gain insight not only into the locations but their significance in Larsson’s thinking. (You can watch Julie’s slideshow here.) We interviewed numerous Swedish writers of thrillers and crime novels, including some who are just beginning to receive attention in the English-speaking world. We met the real-life boxer and martial arts champion, Paolo Roberto, who figures in the plots of the novels.
In all of our work in Sweden, we were greatly aided by our co-author, John-Henri Holmberg, a Swedish writer, publisher and translator who knew Stieg Larsson (and Stieg’s life partner, Eva Gabrielsson), for more than three decades. John-Henri met Stieg when Stieg was still a teenager and they were both interested in science fiction. They remained in touch until Larsson’s death in 2004. Just before he died, Larsson had discussed publishing strategies for his then-unpublished Millennium novels with John-Henri, and even shared with him a few tantalizing clues about what was going to be in the fourth novel, which remains an unpublished enigma today. For The Tattooed Girl, John-Henri wrote a number of important pieces, including an extensive intellectual biography of Larsson, as well as pieces on Larsson’s early years as an aspiring science fiction writer, and a fascinating analysis of what we can hypothesize might have been the content of the fourth book.
LF: How is this book different from your “Secrets of” series?
DB: The Tattooed Girl is similar to our other Secrets books in that it is based on taking a deep, analytic, intriguing look at all the issues related to a huge pop culture phenomenon, and using leading experts in a wide variety of fields to contribute articles and interviews. John-Henri’s contributions make this book a little different than our previous titles in that he has deep first-hand knowledge not only of the Swedish milieu in which the Larsson novels are set, but of Larsson himself. I would also note that, while women have been a major part of every Secrets book we have done, not since our Secrets of Mary Magdalene title have we had such a compelling, complex, and profound character as Lisbeth Salander to focus on and think about.
LF: Do you have a favorite Millennium trilogy book? If so, could you explain your choice?
DB: For me, it’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. This is in some part because the third book ties together the plotlines that have been slowly revealed throughout the first two books. In larger part it is because Larsson worked with a wide variety of subgenres within the three books, but Hornet’s Nest has most in common with an international espionage-type thriller, which would generally tend to be among my favorite genres within the thriller category. I am a huge John le Carré fan, for example.
[Continued in next post.]