Under duress, I started downsizing through digitizing, going through box after box that I had hoped to leave for my daughters to be opened upon my death. Let them sort it out, I always said.
But my wife had other ideas and ordered me to downsize. Duress soon turned to joy as I found many things I had forgotten I had and I cheerfully scanned them into folders for my daughters and threw away all but the originals that predated me.
Then came one of the biggest surprises of all—postcards my father had sent to me during World War II. It was all the more surprising when you consider that my parents separated when I was 5 yet my mother kept several items that were my father’s with the intention that they someday go to me.
My father told my eldest sister in a taped interview that he had been drafted on March 15, 1944, five days after I was born. His induction papers are dated March 16.
He first went to boot camp in Virginia and then on to Fort Lewis in the state of Washington, and that’s where the postage-free postcards begin.
“I hear that Mommy upset you off of the sleigh. Did you get any snow in your face? I’d throw snowballs at her. Be good. Love Daddy.”
A few months later:
“What’s new Joe?” he asked in another, which is dated Jan. 12, 1945, and shows a garden in Chicago, which I’m assuming he stopped at enroute from Virginia to Washington. “I suppose by now you weigh 19 lbs. So you have been riding your dog. I suppose next you will want a pony. Be good. Love Daddy.”
Then the postmarks and the pictures change and there are scenes of France and a mark that says PASSED BY ARMY EXAMINER appears on every card. I know from the interview my eldest sister taped that he eventually ended up in Marseille, France (my ship stopped there in the 60s on one of my Med cruises, but I had no idea that another Berner had been there before me), and then was shipped via the Panama Canal to Clark Airfield in the Philippines after Japan had surrendered.
There are no postcards after France, but thanks to my mother, there are the memories of things I was too young to remember.
The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Biography of Stieg Larsson. Barry Forshaw. John Blake Publishing, Ltd., London. 2010. 294 pp.
Like many others, I got hooked on Stieg Larssons’ Millennium trilogy when I first saw the Swedish movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I immediately bought that book and the second, The Girl Who Played with Fire (and now a movie), and pre-ordered the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (or as it was spelled in the United States, Hornet’s Nest). Likewise, when I learned that Larsson’s biography was in the works, I pre-ordered that too.
Sadly, I must report that The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Biography of Stieg Larsson is not Larsson’s biography. If it’s anything, it is a journalistic mish-mash of facts, interviews, comments and book summaries, with digressions on, among others, Sonny Mehta, Leonard Bernstein, deceased legendary writers of mysteries and several live Swedish writers.
Forshaw, identified as the author of British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, hedges his bets in the introduction by saying that Larsson’s biography “is, to some extent, to be found in his books—hence the concentration here on the three novels of his trilogy, with biography data built into these sections rather than hived off into separate chapters (though his life is addressed separately).”
So when Forshaw devotes three chapters and 151 pages (out of 294) to summarizing each one of the books and occasionally pointing out parallels between Larsson and his central character, Mikael Blomkvist, we are supposed to be getting biography. Blomkvist is anti-fascist and pro-feminist and so was Larsson. Because this biography is aimed at those who read the trilogy, this bit of information comes as no surprise. It didn’t take much to read into the first novel that Blomkvist, a magazine editor and crusading journalist, is Larsson’s fictional self.
Forshaw repeats himself so much that either he or his editor began inserting parenthetical or bracketed asides such as (as mentioned earlier) and [as noted earlier], so we know we aren’t getting new information. After a while you begin to think no one edited the book.
The book does not have a bibliography or an index. Most of it, according to Forshaw’s credits, is based on interviews, which he quotes extensively and uncritically. Contradictions are allowed to stand and thus detract from the book. One that stood out is attributed to Larsson’s significant other, Eva Gabrielsson, who claims that Larsson was not a workaholic. Later, others, including Larsson’s publisher, state that he was a workaholic, and Forshaw does not take sides, although the front inside flap of the dust cover, usually written by the author, states unequivocally that he was. Was he or wasn’t he? His biographer doesn’t say within the text proper. (And what’s wrong with being a workaholic?)
But (as mentioned earlier) this isn’t really a biography. After the three chapters of book summaries, Forshaw presents a chapter titled “Stieg’s Rivals: Scandinavian Crime Fiction.” I’m guessing he relied heavily on his previous writings for that chapter. It read like padding to me.
That chapter was followed by “The Millennium Tour: In Larsson’s Footsteps,” which also read like padding.
The penultimate chapter is titled “The Responses: Writers on Stieg Larsson.” This chapter could have been interesting, but it’s structured in such a way that it’s boring. Forshaw introduces a writer and his or her works and then quotes their comments on Larsson. The chapter goes on and on like that without any synthesis or analysis on Forshaw’s part. One of the more interesting things we do learn in all of this droning is that Larsson changed the spelling of his given name from Stig to Stieg so he wouldn’t be confused with another writer named Stig Larsson.
Those who have read the trilogy because they admire Lisbeth Salander will be pleased to know that Larsson, according to his father, may have used Larsson’s niece as a model. The niece suffers from anorexia nervosa, does have a tattoo, is dyslexic and is highly computer literate. However, she’s never interviewed by Forshaw.
Finally, there is the information that Larsson was actually thinking of writing 10 books. A friend and I discussed what the fourth book might be and we could only come with one or two possibilities and they would have been stretches. So let’s say that ending at three works well, although it is sad that it had to end because of Larsson’s premature death from a heart attack (because he was a workaholic?).
The bottom line for this biography of Stieg Larsson is that Stieg Larsson is all but missing. A real biography is yet to come.
I am a freelance writer and photographer and retired journalism professor. In my first newspaper job more than 50 years ago I wrote a sports column titled The Spectator (Caslon typeface). I thought I'd resurrect the title, which was and is in honor of Addison and Steele.
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