Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stieg Larsson merits more complete biography

Personal memoir fitting tribute to friend

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Stieg Larsson, My Friend

By Kurdo Baksi

Viking Canada, 144 pages, $26

Prior to the posthumous success of his bestselling Millennium trilogy, Stieg Larsson was primarily known in his native Sweden as a journalist on a crusade against far-right and neo-Nazi groups.

He tried to keep his personal and professional lives separate, including not marrying his longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson. After his death, the question of who is entitled to his royalties -- Gabrielsson or Larsson's father and brother -- has turned into a prolonged legal battle.

Adding to the picture of Larsson comes a brief and not entirely satisfying memoir by his longtime colleague Kurdo Baksi, who worked with him when Larsson's anti-racist magazine Expo and Baksi's publication Black and White joined forces in 1998.

In his early life, Larsson lived with his maternal grandparents, while his parents sought work in Stockholm, and the family later reunited and moved to Ume�* in northern Sweden. As a young man, he held a series of odd jobs and did his two-year military service, before travelling in Algeria, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

It's no wonder Baksi, a Swedish Kurd, felt some kinship with him: "I was also forced to move house frequently because of my father's political activities," he writes.

"I like to think that children who grow up in such conditions develop a blend of rootlessness and restlessness. Combine those qualities with curiosity and you have a mixture that can be extremely important for a journalist."

He adds that when they first met in 1992, "Stieg and I had one thing very much in common: we had very few close friends."

Failing to make the cut for the Stockholm College of Journalism, Larsson nevertheless got a job at Sweden's national news service, the Swedish News Agency, and later set up his own magazine, Expo, to fight against racism and other evils.

That came with no small risk, as the attempted murder of two Swedish journalists they both knew by members of a neo-Nazi group attests. Larsson nevertheless brushed off death threats.

Baksi, who lived at multiple addresses and sometimes left the country to escape notice, laments that Larsson's idea of being careful was to get off the tram a stop early and walk the rest of the way. Not marrying Gabrielsson was an attempt to protect her from his enemies, not himself.

Ironically, it may have been Larsson's own lifestyle that contributed to his fatal heart attack at age 50: his smoking, poor eating habits, workaholism and chronic insomnia took their toll.

Despite many stories from the trenches, Baksi's account of Larsson's personal life is riddled with speculation. Too often he writes, "I can only imagine," "presumably" and "I think."

He also avoids commenting on the posthumous struggle over Larsson's royalties.

And a bombshell of a personal revelation comes late in the book. Baksi recounts an incident in which a teenage Larsson witnessed -- and did -- something that goes a long way towards explaining what would drive a man to write a novel called Men Who Hate Women (the original title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but it is hardly elaborated on.

Baksi has crafted a personal memoir, a fitting tribute to a friend; but given Larsson's phenomenal success as an author and his all-but-overshadowed journalistic career, a more complete biography of a fascinating man is called for.

David Jón Fuller is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2010 H8

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