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<Larissa Kyzer>

04/27/11 2:53pm

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Monday marked the start of the 7th annual PEN World Voices Festival, a weeklong readings and events series which celebrates international literature and the authors, translators, editors, journalists, and publishers creating it today. This year’s festival features 100 writers from 40 different nations and includes over 60 events—many free—all over Manhattan. A full schedule of events is available on the PEN website.

If there is anything that mars the experience of each year’s PEN World Voices Festival—besides the fact that an increasing number of panels are not free—it’s that so many interest-piquing events are scheduled during the workday, making attendance difficult if you don’t have a few spare sick days to burn. Luckily, this year there are a handful of events scheduled around the lunch hour, including the three-part “Lunchtime Literary Conversations” hosted at NYU’s La Maison Française. The first of these conversations featured two authors whose work is yet unknown to English language readers—Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, a Norwegian author whose first novel, The Faster I Run, the Smaller I Am has been sold to Dalkey Archive and is, hopefully, forthcoming, and Ludovic Debeurme, a French graphic novelist whose 500+ page autobiographically-inspired graphic novel Lucille—about two teenagers struggling with anorexia, alcoholism, and more mundane trials of adolescence—is forthcoming in English translation next month.

It’s rather a hallmark of the World Voices Festival to pair unlikely panelists, hinging events on esoteric and unexpected similarities between, say, a British children’s author and a Finnish-Estonian novelist and playwright. Yesterday’s conversation was unusually theme-less, although moderator Kira Brunner Don (executive editor of Lapham’s Quarterly) did her best to keep the implied rationale of the pairing—introducing two celebrated international authors to an American audience—engaging by discussing Skomsvold and Debeurme’s respective experiences having their work translated.

Skomsvold read two passages from her self-described “lonely love story,” starting with a scene where her effacing, elderly narrator, Matea, recalls her childhood experience of being struck by lightning. After recovering, Matea meets her future husband who guilelessly presents her, on the playground, with a series of statistical probabilities of the same thing happening to her ever again. The passage reflected the type of whimsical sense of humor that is only comfortable when couched against a melancholy background, and showcased Skomsvold’s familiarity with mathematics and physics. Before she became a writer, Skomsvold planned to become a computer engineer (her book’s title is actually a play on relativity theory). In the end, her reading was, humorously, a bit more revelatory than some audience members would have liked: while providing an anecdote about a German translator, the sweetly candid Skomsvold casually spoiled the rather dramatic ending of her novel, to the giggling, gasping chagrin of many attendees.

Debeurme—who is less conversant in English and relied on the remarkably fluid and expressive services of his French interpreter to articulate his more complex answers—did not read his excerpt of Lucille himself, but rather had images from the book projected onto a screen while the moderator read from the English translation. It would certainly be difficult to get much of a sense of such a sprawling work from a minutes-long reading, but Debeurme’s simple, unbound illustrations were quite revealing on their own. He favors consecutive comic panels without borders, speech without bubbles or special delineation, deliberately maintaining white space on each page so as to allow the reader to set her own pace while reading. In fact, rhythm and “improvisation” play a significant role in Debeurme’s writing process. A jazz guitarist as well as an author and artist, he says he starts every book without a sense of what is going to happen next, and “improvises” until he can hear the character speaking in his head.

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If Skomsvold and Debeurme have something substantial in common, it’s a generous respect for the art of rendering a tonally and stylistically accurate translation—one which specifically eschews word-for-word adaptations. Skomsvold described an early draft of the English translation of her novel, one which was linguistically accurate without replicating any of the playful wordplay which are indicative of her narrator’s speech pattern. She urged the translator to “get into her [narrator’s] way of thinking,” to create original turns of phrase and rhymes which the character could say, had the book been written originally in English. “It’s good to let [the book] go,” she explained, “to let it belong to someone else.” Debeurme recalled with approval several episodes where his translators had made changes to his text because of cultural context which would not be understood by readers of the translation. To prevent misinterpretation in a translated text, he said, it’s just as important for the translator to be conversant in the cultural perspective of the secondary audience.

Neither author expressed discomfort at the thought of their work being translated into a language they were entirely unfamiliar with. (Lucille has been translated into Korean, for instance, and The Faster I Run has been published in Spanish.) “It’s actually a relief,” said Skomsvold. “I say to myself, ‘it’s probably great!’”

The Lunchtime Literary Conversations at La Maison Française continued on today with Laurence Cossé and Hervé Le Tellier, and conclude on Friday, April 29 with Amélie Nothomb and Buket Uzuner.

09/01/10 3:30am

The Private Lives of Trees
By Alejandro Zambra, Trans. Megan McDowell
Open Letter

Hailed by many as a leader in an emerging literary vanguard, and criticized by others for eschewing a more traditional novelistic approach, Alejandro Zambra has, with two novellas spanning less than 200 pages combined, ignited fresh debates about the direction of contemporary Chilean fiction. In his spare, reflexive novels, Zambra deconstructs the tropes of the modern novel while simultaneously declaring the importance of storytelling in our daily lives.

The Private Lives of Trees is a nesting doll of tales: Julián, a professor and author (who has written—like Zambra—a novella about a bonsai), tells his step-daughter a bedtime story about a poplar and a baobob who spend their evenings discussing “photosynthesis, squirrels, or the many advantages of being trees.” Waiting for his wife, Verónica, to return home, Julián is also himself the subject of a novel, which “continues until [Verónica] returns, or until Julián is sure that she won’t return.”

As Julián becomes increasingly concerned about his wife’s whereabouts, he begins to create scenarios to explain her absence—she’s stuck changing a tire, taking a pregnant friend to the hospital, spending the evening with a lover. When these stories cease to offer solace, he imagines the future through his step-daughter’s eyes, as a young woman whose mother disappeared many years before.

Each of the characters in the novel remain strictly that: fictional characters whose situations remain on the page, part of a tale in which the mechanics of authorship are privileged over the illusion of reality. But Zambra is not seeking to create introspective portraits. Rather, he’s drawing back the curtain between storyteller and reader, and showing us all to be authors in our own lives.

08/18/10 4:30am

I Curse the River of Time
By Per Petterson, Trans. Charlotte Barslund

Graywolf

It’s the fall of 1989 and although he doesn’t know it yet, Arvid Jansen’s life is in shambles. His wife is leaving him. His mother, just diagnosed with cancer, will die in a little over a week. The Berlin Wall is days from falling. On the cusp of these upheavals, Arvid—a fervent communist who left college to work in a factory—remains firmly entrenched in his own suffering. Discovering that his mother left Oslo alone to return to her small Danish hometown, he follows her, uninvited. He finds her sitting on a beach. “I knew she was ill, she might even die,” he recalls. “…[A]nd yet I said: ‘Mother, I’m getting a divorce.'”

Balancing regret with resignation, Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time is a novel in which the clarity of hindsight offers little comfort. Petterson set himself a high bar with his previous novel, the cathartic and introspective Out Stealing Horses. But he is unquestionably at his best in this newest work, a frank meditation on the youthful missteps and crippling self-absorption which have defined one man’s life.

“I am not Arvid Jansen,” Petterson has stated, but there is no doubt that this richly realized character is a natural conduit for the author’s own experiences: shades of Petterson’s family history have colored all of his works. Arvid was first introduced in In the Wake, which fictionalized the 1990 ferry disaster that killed two of Petterson’s brothers and both of his parents. Petterson also explored his mother’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Denmark in To Siberia; his distant father is a recurrent figure in many of his novels.

It is only natural then that a familial relationship—between Arvid and his mother—grounds I Curse the River of Time. A dedicated reader of three languages, Arvid’s mother never went to college, but rather spent her life working in a chocolate factory. When Arvid announces that he is leaving school to join the proletariat—despite his suspicions that “the working class I spoke of was not quite the same one my mother and father belonged to”—their relationship is irrevocably damaged.

In the course of Arvid’s recollections, however, it becomes clear that the maternal rejection he subsequently feels was the consequence of many previous injuries, not simply one choice. He is openly resentful of his father, an uneducated factory worker who went out of his way to get Arvid a job at the paper mill where he once made a living. When his younger brother dies, he wonders, watching his mother mourn, “…if I were the one… dying… would she be so unconditionally absorbed by what was happening to me?”

Petterson’s lovely prose draws the reader into Arvid’s mind, into a slow-building quasi-monologue where the simplest observation—stated almost plainly—becomes poetic. He describes “trees by the streams blown bare,” and hospital rooms “painted white, painted apple green.” Offset by Arvid’s fumbling, comical pronouncements—”I hated Stalin, he had ruined everything”—these lyrical passages attest to the sharp insight that Arvid has finally attained. Stranded in the present, Arvid can only now appreciate the missed opportunities of even the most troubled days of his young life. “Life lay ahead of me,” he realizes. “Nothing had been settled.”

05/26/10 3:10am

Purge
By Sofi Oksanen. Trans. Lola Rogers

Grove Press

In 2009, Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen was declared Estonia’s “Person of the Year”in recognition of her virtuosic novel Purge. The novel—whose Finnish title also connotes “cleansing—is a daring exploration of the Soviet occupation of Estonia and a wrenching consideration of the irrevocable effects of trauma on an individual. Through her inscrutable protagonist Aliide Truu, Oksanen creates a perceptive portrait of the limitations of the healing process and the consequences that abuse can have not only on a victim, but on those around her.

Having always lived in rural Estonia, elderly Aliide has weathered multiple occupations—two under Soviet regimes, and one under Nazi Germany. After a brutal “interrogation”by Soviet soldiers in her youth, Aliide is determined to prevent a repeat assault. In an effort to protect herself, however, she becomes complicit in the victimization of other women—even her sister and niece. Like the anonymous diarist of A Woman in Berlin, Aliide seeks safety with her assailants, going so far as to marry a prominent soldier. “No one would believe that a woman could go through something like that and then marry a Communist,”she reasons.” And that was important—that no one would ever know.

It is this oppressive silence which comes to define Purge and strikes at the prolonged anguish felt by so many of its characters. In fluid and unadorned prose (beautifully translated by Lola Rogers), Oksanen gives poetic shape to unspeakable violence and illuminates the devastating process of remembering. It’s a compelling, difficult, and ultimately impossible resolution. Because as Oksanen herself has noted, it is only after one can speak about trauma that one can heal from it.

For Americans who are accustomed to exploring their most intimate sufferings in public, the burden of silence may not immediately resonate. But for Estonians, who only regained independence from Russia in 1991, surely the unabashed eloquence of Oksanen’s narrative marks an important step toward reconciliation with a past that has been silenced for too long.

03/17/10 4:00am

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

The Sweden represented in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is one which consistently falls short of the promises of its cushy welfare society. In his novels, Larsson accomplishes his take-down by creating a comprehensive—if rather convoluted—portrait of systemic failure and abuse at every layer of society, highlighting both white collar embezzlement and institutionalized misogyny. In Danish director Niels Arden Oplev’s film adaptation of the first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the layers of conspiracy and societal failure are significantly pared down, pulling focus to the ongoing tribulations (and retaliations) of Larsson’s avenging hacker badass, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Repace).

The story scuttles between multiple plots, most notably intrepid journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s (Michael Nyqvist) investigation into the disappearance and presumed murder of sixteen year old Harriet Vanger forty years in the past. In a convenient twist, Salander teams up with Blomkvist to investigate, discovering along the way the sordid history of the Vanger family (both their contentious family business and sympathies to the Swedish Nazi movement), as well as a series of unsolved, Biblically inspired homicides targeting young women all over Sweden.

While Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg’s screenplay does a reasonable job of reining in Larsson’s sprawling plot, its efforts to create an immediately empathetic heroine out of Salander are rather out of step with the novel’s overall concerns. Larsson goes to great lengths in his first book to emphasize that Salander—whose motivations and history remain, at least for a time, unknown—is one of a multitude of victimized women. The original title, after all, is Män som hatar kvinnor or, literally, Men Who Hate Women. In the English translation, the series has misleadingly become a saga about one woman, a preoccupation which is evident in the film adaptation as well. Salander is, after all, a sexy character, and the svelte Repace is given ample opportunity to vamp—bedecked in leather and dog collars, displaying her yakuza-style back tattoo during a shadowy sex scene, wielding tasers and golf clubs with brutal accuracy.

Foregoing much of the novel’s social commentary, the film might more appropriately be called Men Who Hate Lisbeth Salander. Within the first fifteen minutes, she’s been skeptically observed by a client at her workplace, sexually harassed by her guardian, and attacked by drunk hooligans in the pristine Stockholm subway who inexplicably punch her in the face and spit on her before she menaces them with a broken bottle. (And that’s not even the worst of it.) These incidents are not out of step with the source material, but deployed as monotonously as they are, they act as shorthand—a reductive way to humanize Salander while offering up a pat explanation for how she has become the suspicious, emotionally stunted and volatile person that she’s shown to be.

This is taken a step further when Salander’s backstory is prematurely introduced—images of her during a violent childhood incident are repeatedly intercut with scenes of her behaving violently in her adulthood. This incident will be thoroughly covered in the series’ next installment, but for now, the scene gives the audience yet another reason to root for our aggrieved heroine. Lying in bed with Salander, Blomkvist finally asks what the film has been pushing us to ponder all along: “What happened to make you this way?”


Opens March 19

02/03/10 4:00am

The True Deceiver

By Tove Jansson

trans. Thomas Teal

New York Review Books

Although Finnish author Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of the “Moomin” characters—a family of comic-strip trolls resembling marshmallow hippos—she also wrote well-respected adult novels. Appropriate for the dark days of winter, Jansson’s The True Deceiver is a foreboding tale of conflicting egos and misapprehension which ultimately suggests that all human relationships must necessarily be built on some measure of (self-) deception.

The novel opens on a young woman named Katri Kling in an isolated, snowbound village. “Nothing can be as peaceful and endless as a long winter darkness,” Katri muses. “[Y]ou’re screened from everything… You wait and hide like a tree.” Both entrenched in village affairs and separated from them, so Katri has hidden for years. Unflinchingly honest, she reviles “flattery [and] empty adjectives, the whole sloppy disgusting machinery that people engage in with impunity all the time everywhere to help them get what they want…” But despite her candor, Katri protects her own furtive motive: to situate herself and her beloved younger brother in the home of Anna Aemelin, an elderly (and wealthy) children’s illustrator.

Gaining Anna’s trust through dubious means, Katri becomes a domineering housemate: she orders Anna’s groceries, cleans out her attic and takes over her finances. But despite obliging Anna’s “uncommon ability to forget unpleasant things,” it becomes clear that she is no victim. A power struggle follows, both women fighting to disrupt the other’s sincerest convictions.

The novel’s mounting tension relies on Jansson’s taut prose. Hopping among perspectives and alternating between passages of frenetic rambling and monosyllabic dialogue, Jansson encapsulates both women’s troubled self-realizations and the weight of the season. But as the winter wanes, so does the animosity. With spring approaching, the women come to a sort of strained acceptance. “Are you trying to be nice to me?” Anna asks after an unexpected confession. “Now you’re suspicious,” Katri replies. “But there’s one thing you can believe. I never try to be nice.”

09/30/09 4:00am

Available now

If the debate around last year’s Nobel winner and Roberto Bolaño’s breakthrough success should have convinced the American reading public anything, it’s that there is, unsurprisingly, a world of significant fiction of which even our most avid readers are embarrassingly unaware. So we should count ourselves lucky to now have eminent Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad’s epic and endlessly inventive “Wergeland Trilogy” available in English. The first installment, The Seducer, was translated in 2006, but the remaining two—The Conqueror and The Discoverer—are only now available, a decade, it bears noting, after the last volume’s original publication.

Chronicling the rise and fall of television icon Jonas Wergeland, these novels upend expectations of genre, narrative chronology, and authorial privilege to create a dynamic portrait of a man who is alternately represented as a murderer, victim, genius, imitator, liar and visionary. Comprised of two hundred non-chronological stories and told in five different voices, the trilogy recalls the narrative pyrotechnics of Cervantes and the storytelling prowess of Arabian Nights, but the story remains contemporary—deeply rooted in the media-saturated, hyper-connected present day.

Although each novel presents a unique picture of Wergeland, they all share a common interest: to determine whether a person’s present is dictated by his past—whether one can make sense of a life by revealing all of its moments—its stories. “How do the pieces of a life fit together?”

As The Seducer begins, the wildly famous Wergeland has been found guilty of his wife’s murder. The novel postures as hagiography, passionately defending Wergeland from the “scurrilous and untrue things” that have been said about him. Here, he is an artistic savant whose erotic talents (and “magic penis”) enlarge his creative abilities and stimulate the brilliance of his bedmates. Following him from Greenland to Timbuktu, from Sinai to his working-class suburb of Grorud, each fantastical anecdote prods the reader to consider: “Is this the most crucial story in Jonas Wergeland’s life?” Nevertheless, that the narrative purposefully circumvents what is perhaps that most important moment—when he discovers his dead wife—implicitly questions the validity of our heroic image of Wergeland.

The suspicions sown within The Seducer grow in The Conqueror, the trilogy’s most masterful installment. Two more narrators are introduced—a professor hired to write a biography of Wergeland while the latter is imprisoned, and a mysterious woman who shows up, unbidden, to assist. Hoping to save Wergeland’s life from “pointlessness,” the woman reveals his darker side: his mediocrity, passivity, festering jealousy, and violent tendencies. While reading as a far more accurate and nuanced account of Wergeland’s life, The Conqueror admits the most fictionalization. As the woman narrates episodes, the professor records them by hand so that “the stories will be not as I tell them, but as you perceive them.” The resulting picture of Wergeland is distinctly fragmented—pasted together from fact and invention, from misinterpretation and inference. “[S]omehow…” the professor writes, “the story has gone from being half-true to half-false.”

Wergeland tells his own story in The Discoverer. Far from establishing a definitive truth, however, his perspective further complicates the reader’s understanding. Having served a murderer’s sentence, he is working as a ship’s secretary and writing, reconstructing his wife’s death. “I… could survive by telling my own story,” he explains. “But which story? That was the problem.” Searching for reasons, for explanations in his past, Wergeland reminisces on his wife and marriage and is changed. “All the writing had helped me to evolve… I was not the person I had been when I started.”

Read together or separately, these novels celebrate the expansiveness of a human life and challenge our notion of what it means to know someone—to know ourselves. Our lives, we discover, exist primarily in the memories of others. “The future belongs to the storytellers,” one character remarks. Should we find ourselves remembered by one as adept as Kjærstad, we’d be lucky indeed.

07/17/09 4:00am

Although the Scandinavian crime novel has enjoyed immense popularity in Europe for decades, it has become something of a sensation in the English-speaking world in recent years. Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Arnaldur Indriðason, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø and myriad others from the Nordic climes have become staples in the diets of mystery aficionados in the U.S. and U.K., but not without a fair amount of bemusement on the part of these readers. After all, how can such a blood-drenched genre flourish in countries whose murder rates frequently fall well below that of Connecticut?

In the wake of the almost unfathomably successful English publication of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and looking forward to the publication of its sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire (forthcoming this month), Nathaniel Rich rekindles this debate to somewhat limited effect.

It’s become something of a hobby for avid English-speaking critics to speculate on the prevalence of crime novels from those adorably morbid, and yet — as far as many are concerned — wholly peaceful Scandinavian countries. Multitudes of reviewers have weighed in on what distinguishes these Scandinavian novels from their American and European cousins, pointing to their exotic locations and “sense of the other“, their empathetic and beleaguered detectives, and even Scandinavia’s perceived role as “the world’s Puritan conscience.” And while there’s certainly something to each of these assertions, all in all, they appear to be part of a somewhat idle conversation which simply seeks to engender a bit of pattern recognition: “Hey, there’re awful lot of Swedish (Norwegian/Icelandic/Danish/Finnish) authors being published these days.”

Rich’s main assertion concerns the unique contrast Scandinavian crime novels evoke: heinous crimes occurring against a backdrop of “sublime tranquility… a world that, at least to an American reader, seems utopian in its peacefulness, happiness, and orderliness.” (It bears noting that he tends to shorthand “Scandinavia” with “Ikea” — that oh-so-quirky, familiar import which is at once ultra chic and woefully tacky. Stieg Larsson’s depiction of Stockholm is likened to “the Ikea approach-modish design with a side of Swedish meatballs.” In a later passage, he quips that when “goons intrude upon the world of glossy magazines and Ikea, the result is pleasantly discordant.”) For Rich, Larsson’s “novels mark the apotheosis of the genre,” setting themselves apart from their counterparts, which as a whole, depend on “catatonic detectives tramping across frozen tundra.” Larsson, he suggests, “may have provided a new direction for Scandinavian fiction.”

04/15/09 12:00am

Farrar, Straus & Giroux • Available now

In his debut collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower paints a fragmented portrait of domestic upheaval and uneasy reconciliation. Peopling his darkly humorous, deadpan stories with estranged husbands and senile fathers, neglectful caregivers and aimless children, Tower explores the inadequacy of familial relationships and the anxiety provoked by ever-present yet inscrutable threats to one’s safety and happiness. A leopard stalks the woods outside a young boy’s home. A rapist lurks around a traveling carnival. A group of malcontent Vikings enact a brutal raid on a peaceful island village out of sheer boredom.

The tension rarely breaks the surface of the stories, but rather (with a nod to the grotesqueries of the Southern Gothic) manifests itself in the physical degradation of the collection’s cast of psoriasis-ridden, pimpled misfits. In “Executors of Important Energies,” a young man’s young stepmother becomes the sole provider for her rapidly degenerating husband. Our first image of her is of “…her sparse, dry hair, her mottled cheeks… her right eye… bloodshot and brimming with brine.” We meet a predatory hiker with a severely scarred arm in “Wild America,” and a child with a knack for lying who wakes up with a fungal infection on his lip in “Leopard.” It’s emotional poverty made visible, internal conflict inescapably displayed on the body.

It is this threat from within that comes to define the collection. For Tower’s characters are not only at odds with wildcats and menacing strangers. Ultimately, they struggle against their own worse impulses, their own cruelty. It’s a conflict most clearly expressed in the title story. A cadre of cynical marauders are party to a raid on a nearby village. Unimpressed by their younger, enthusiastic counterparts, the veterans still watch unfazed as a monk is subjected to what is inventively known as a “blood eagle,” and local daughters are swept away for brides. “…I got an understanding of how terrible love can be,” muses the narrator, once retired from his life of pillaging. “You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know the things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself.”   

09/17/08 12:00am

Although Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s posthumous debut, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has much to recommend it to English-reading audiences — including a dizzying array of plotlines involving a global corporate conspiracy, an Agatha Christie-esque ‘locked-room’ disappearance scenario, Swedish Nazism, and a series of Biblically influenced murders — the novel’s most compelling element will surely be Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous hacker genius who embodies a distinctly un-Scandinavian respect for karmic revenge and vigilantism.

The novel’s sexy English title certainly pulls focus to Salander, but its original Swedish rendering — Men Who Hate Women — is a far better indicator of where its real concerns lie. Throughout the narrative, the reader’s attentions are repeatedly drawn back to moments of graphic, sadistic and systematic violence against women. Even when the plot seems most divergent from these moments of victimization, Larsson refocuses attention: each of the novel’s four sections are preceded with increasingly dire statistics about violence against women in Sweden; the narrative’s most horrific scene of sexual violence is punctuated by a tender moment between the story’s male lead and his lover.

Larsson’s ability to visit almost excessively appalling traumas on his female characters can only be excused by his evident horror that all of these atrocities go almost completely unnoticed, not only by the book’s male characters, but also that most allegorical of male stand-ins: a well-intentioned but ultimately inadequate Swedish society. One woman is abused by family members for decades right under the watchful gaze of her guardian. Another — a former psychiatric patient and ward of the state — is repeatedly abused by her governmentally appointed trustee.

Enter Lisbeth Salander, a resourceful anti-heroine who might comfortably kick ass in a Vin Diesel flick. Arguably the novel’s most victimized character, Salander responds to abuse with retaliation, rejecting help from the police (“visor-clad brutes”) and women’s crisis centers, because they “existed for victims, and she had never regarded herself as a victim.” Instead, Salander blackmails, mutilates, drains bank accounts and stalks those who have abused her and other women. She’s clearly a figure of promise and redemption for Larsson, a woman who, even after suffering the worst ordeals, will not allow herself to be subjugated.

Given the novel’s despairing revelation that society is unable to effectively locate and punish rapists and chronic abusers of women, the presence of a proud, capable and vengeful female character is, in some ways, quite refreshing. But while Salander’s ability to come back swinging may appeal to a reader’s own sense of fair retribution, she is ultimately a deeply flawed creation. Her stoicism reads as a lack of emotional depth, and Larsson does his heroine an injustice by not allowing her to experience genuine suffering at any point.

If, instead of highlighting the fact that “apart from the tears of pure physical pain she shed not a single tear,” Larsson let Salander experience shock and trauma after being assaulted — if Salander overcame, rather than stifled, the myriad emotional consequences that result from sexual abuse — her triumphs would be far greater. As it stands, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo resigns itself to a world in which covert, unpunished sexual crimes are the norm, and vigilantism is a woman’s only possible source of justice.