While many readers may be familiar with the blockbuster novels of author Stieg Larsson (1954–2004), including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, fewer may be aware of his crusading journalism as editor in chief of the Swedish magazine Expo, of which he was a leading expert on antidemocratic, right-wing extremist, and Nazi organizations. Seeking to redress that gap in awareness is The Expo Files: Articles by the Crusading Journalist (Quercus, 2014), which brings together for the first time in English a sampling of over three decades of the author’s work. Edited by Larsson’s friend Daniel Poohl, the current editor in chief of Expo, the book also includes a foreword by writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali (pictured), who answered a few questions about the title and shared his thoughts on Larsson’s work.
LJ: How did you come to be involved with this book? What about the project appealed to you?
TA: I was asked to [be involved with the project] by Christopher MacLehose, a publisher I have always respected. He had heard that Stieg had attended some of my talks in Sweden during the 1970s when I was an activist in the same international Trotskyist [organization] currently known as the Fourth International. Stieg was heavily engaged in politics and especially the rise of the far-right, neofascist groups in his own country who target migrants and treated women like filth. So a collection of his journalism from that period sounded like a good idea.
The articles in the book are roughly organized thematically into pieces on neo-Nazism and far-right extremism; articles specifically about Sweden’s nationalist and racist parties; discussions and reports on violence against women and the responses of the media and politicians; and, finally, violence against gay people and homophobia within the country. Would it be fair to say that these were the major preoccupations of Larsson’s journalistic career?
Yes, without any doubt, and how prescient he turned out to be. The Swedish neofascists now have 20 members in parliament, and the disease is growing in other parts of Europe to such an extent that mainstream parties are pandering to this type of politics. In France, Manuel Valls has targeted the Roma people, in Britain all mainstream politicians are attacking migrants, in Greece elements of the state openly encouraged the explicitly Nazi Golden Dawn, etc. Stieg would not have been surprised.
In editor Daniel Poohl’s preface he writes that Larsson joked that his crime novels were going to be his pension. In light of his writing for Expo, what do you think Larsson’s response, had he lived, would have been to his crime novels’ overwhelming popularity? Or to recent and current events?
He wouldn’t have been surprised at all. Though the burning of Roma families in Naples some years ago or the minipogroms against Pakistani workers in Greece might have taken him aback.
The first volume of “The Millennium Trilogy,” published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was titled Män som hatar kvinnor in Swedish, which literally translates as “Men who hate women.” In The Expo Files, there are a number of references to “violence against women,” which Larsson describes as systematic within Sweden because of the need of some men “to control women.” To what extent do you think his journalistic work informed his novels?
His novels are fictionalized investigative journalism of the highest order. If you look at the general decline of this category today you can appreciate the work even more. At a very young age Stieg had stood by while older boys had raped a young woman. He never forgot that, and as he grew he realized how systematic violence was deeply embedded in society. He saw it in Sweden, but it was and remains a universal phenomenon. His novels are based on the ugly and vile incidents that happen every day. It is this that gives them their power.