The Woman Who Finally Told Her Side of the Story: Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson, Actes Sud and the Languages In Between

In Europe by Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije

PARIS: The story of Eva Gabrielsson, the late Stieg Larsson’s partner of 23 years is well known: following Larsson’s sudden and tragic death just before publication of the first Millennium book, Gabrielsson was stripped of her rights to the Millennium books and any of the estate because of Swedish inheritance law. (Larsson had worked tirelessly against racism and right wing extremists and had received death threats. He did not marry Gabrielsson in order to protect her.) Her fight to reclaim, above all, the copyright, has been widely publicized.

Eva Gabrielsson photo

Eva Gabrielsson, © Per Jarl

Stieg Larsson’s life partner Eva Gabrielsson wrote her autobiography in Swedish, worked with her French co-writer in English, and had the book translated into Norwegian — all this to protect the manuscript from falling into the wrong hands at home.

Now, in a book Millenium Stieg et moi that was published last month simultaneously in France, Sweden and Norway, Gabrielsson recounts the very particular world in which she and Stieg Larsson lived.

World Rights to France

The publisher holding world rights is the Arles-based Actes Sud, also the publisher of the French editions of the Millennium trilogy.

Why did Gabrielsson, who doesn’t speak French, decide to publish her memoirs in French with a French publisher?

“I just happened to be there,” said Marie-Francoise Colombani, a journalist for Elle magazine who wrote the book with Gabrielsson. Colombani had flown to Sweden to interview Gabrielsson when the first Millennium book was published. “She was paranoid and met me in an abandoned apartment. She was writing a book called One year after Stieg (which she discussed with us here) and she was struggling with it. I invited her to my wedding in France and she came, there was such an easygoing atmosphere, she felt good, and felt she could trust people and that’s where she met Francoise Nyssen.”

Francoise Nyssen, a biochemist by training, who moved to France from Belgium to work with her father who had founded Actes Sud, is known to be a woman of principles. She was very concerned about Gabrielsson’s situation and was the one, says Colombani, who convinced her that Millennium had to be a starting point for the book. (Gabrielsson hadn’t mentioned Millennium in her manuscript.)

“The Millennium books were synonymous with misfortune for Eva, she didn’t want to talk about them and didn’t even read them when they came out,” said Colombani.

Once Gabrielsson decided to sign on with the French publisher (Actes Sud considered her the closest person to Stieg. They were very honest and very generous with her,” said Colombani) the three-year task began:

The original manuscript was in Swedish. Gabrielsson and Colombani communicated in English. Colombani would write in French, then, what she wrote would be translated into Norwegian. Gabrielsson wanted to avoid having a version of the manuscript in Swedish in case it fell into the wrong hands.

Mutual friends and an editor at Actes Sud spoke and wrote Norwegian, which Gabrielsson was comfortable in. She would add to the manuscript, which would be translated back into French.

Hege Roel-Rousson, Actes Sud’s editor for Scandinavian literature kept a benevolent eye on the procedure “which really isn’t how we usually go about things.”

“It was a lovely expression of Europe,” commented Colombani.

For the journalist, who is originally Corsican, entering into Gabrielsson and Larsson’s rather austere world was eye opening.

Beyond the Cliché of Sweden

“There’s the cliché of Sweden, of a place where people are blond and well paid and in good health. Theirs was a somber, productive milieu. Millennium is now the biggest export from Sweden, and it’s the first time the world sees this side of Sweden — the extremist right wing and a neo-Nazi presence,” said Colombani.

The book not only gives insight on the particular atmosphere in the Millennium books but mostly on the politically engaged lives that Gabrielsson and Larsson led, on their childhoods, bathed in working class values but with a hefty dose of religion. “For Stieg and me, we weren’t only familiar with the New Testament and with Jesus who asks one to turn the other cheek; what nourished us was the Old Testament, harsh and violent,” writes Gabrielsson.

Honesty, responsibility and courage were the tenets of their lives, but Larsson also sought revenge if crossed. Gabrielsson writes, “When someone had behaved badly with him or someone he was close to, it was ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’”

The religious element as well as a magical Nordic ceremony that Gabrielsson held for Larsson after his death were all cultural particularities that Colombani struggled with and encouraged Gabrielsson to explain. “She is very secretive and I had to research Scandinavian mythology to help explain it to the reader.”

Gabrielsson’s book is a far cry from a tearful “tell all” and a more commercial publisher would have turned it down. Instead she recounts how she and Larsson lived, as far from the Millennium “industry” as one can imagine.

“She’s an intellectual,” said Francoise Nyssen. “The strength of the book is that it uncovers a place one didn’t know. The tone isn’t complaining, it reveals things with small strokes and childhood memories. This is what touched me. We simply gave Eva the possibility of expressing herself.”

The final chapter of the book is entitled “the fourth volume”, and sheds light on the rumored fourth Millennium book. Larsson had written over 200 pages of it, and it is probably in the computer that his former magazine has kept in a safe. Gabrielsson has read it, and suggests she could finish it, but as things stand now, she doesn’t have the legal right to.

Actes Sud has by now sold the rights to Gabrielsson’s memoirs to publishers in 18 countries, many of which published Millennium. Although Gabrielsson did not want to publish in Sweden with Millennium publisher, Norstedts, for obvious reasons, Actes Sud did present the Swedish publisher with the book at last year’s Frankfurt fair, explaining that it wasn’t a book “against them, but for Eva Gabrielsson.”

Instead, she chose to go with Natur & Kultur, an independent, left wing publisher in Sweden. Seven Stories will be publishing the North American version in June entitled There Are Things I Want You to Know and the rights for the UK have yet to be sold. (Gabrielsson was allegedly horrified by Millennium’s UK publisher Quercus’ commercial approach to the book.)

While the Millennium “industry” hurtles ahead, with Amazon’s announcement last summer that the Millennium Trilogy had sold more than one million books in Amazon’s Kindle e-bookstore since its 2007 launch, and with a Sony Pictures film starring Daniel Craig scheduled for a pre-Christmas release, Francoise Nyssen said of Gabrielsson:

“I sense she will have to protect herself from an onslaught of media coverage. I hope that the book will accomplish the rest: her word.”

DISCUSS: Should Eva Gabriellson or Another Famous Writer Continue the Millennium Series?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.