The Expo Files, By Stieg Larsson (trs Laurie Thompson)
A crusading journalist who was more than just the man of the Millennium
Sunday 15 April 2012
Stieg Larsson did far more in his sadly abbreviated life than write bestsellers. As demonstrated in this collection of his non-fiction, the author of the 65-million selling Millennium trilogy was also a dogged opponent of xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism and homophobia. The story goes that he witnessed a rape when he was a teenager and, haunted by his failure to intervene, was forever infuriated when authorities failed to protect the vulnerable in society.
The essays in The Expo Files, written between 1983 and 2005, mainly for left-leaning publications including the Stockholm journal, Expo, where Larsson was editor-in-chief, often take a news item and fill in the unreported history and context. The 1995 piece "Terror Killings Can Happen in Stockholm", by sifting through the writings and activities of extremist groups such as Combat 18 and Blood and Honour, shows how the Oklahoma bombing – far from the work of a "one-off madman", as claimed by the authorities – had "a political and historical explanation". There is a chilling prescience to Larsson's statement that "the indications are that a similar terrorist attack could take place [here]", given the rampage in 2011 in neighbouring Norway by the Islamophobe Anders Behring Breivik.
In a similar vein, the essay "The New Popular Movement" (1999) progresses from the London nailbomber David Copeland's BNP affiliations to a hair-raising timeline of the far-right in Europe and America. This history of "sanitised fascists", as Tariq Ali memorably puts it in his introduction, highlights the respectable veneer and electoral gains of a movement "whose aims have not changed noticeably since the 1930s".
There are shocking pieces about the post-9/11 rise in right wing sentiment, about the blossoming of online race hate forums, as well as a biting exposé of Sweden's National Democrats' hypocritical use of the slogan "Stop gang rape – stop immigration", when their leader Tor Paulsson was arrested for beating up his wife.
These pieces are mostly too short to meditate on why, for example, hate politics might appeal to certain groups in society. But in a subtle and far-reaching longer piece titled "Swedish and Un-Swedish Violence towards Women" there is a brilliant deconstruction of the media's role in fostering "men's need to control women" and the fact that, according to Larsson, violence against women is now "a conditioned reflex in Swedish men".
The concluding piece is a travelogue of Larsson's 1987 journey on the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing. It demonstrates his eye for smaller, funnier human details than the rest of the collection can really allow for, and the 9,000km-long human drama is sewn together by a series of historical observations deftly sketching Russia's past via the towns and waystations the train passes. All of which might seem insignificant in a collection of such moral and political gusto, but in fact proves the comprehensiveness of Larsson's vision, reinforcing the loss to literature – not just to movie-fodder – when he died at the age of 52.
Admirably translated by Laurie Thompson to give a sense of Larsson's no-nonsense style, and with a warm, revealing foreword by Larsson's friend and colleague Daniel Poohl, The Expo Files will certainly appeal to fans wanting a fuller picture of the man, but should more importantly be a spur to democratic participation.
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