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Literary heir to ‘Dragon Tattoo’ aims to deepen the enigma of Lisbeth Salander

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was the beginning of a bestselling series of thrillers, published after author Stieg Larsson’s death. Recently, Swedish journalist and writer David Lagercrantz was tapped to continue the series. Lagercrantz joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss "The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye,” its iconic central character and the current events that permeate the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now the newest installment in a bestselling series.

    Hari Sreenivasan has this addition to the “NewsHour” Bookshelf.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    First, there was “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” then “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and finally “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

    Written by Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson and published after his death in 2004, they were international bestsellers, with millions of fans following the brilliant hacker and outsider Lisbeth Salander.

    Two years ago, Larsson’s estate tapped Swedish journalist and writer David Lagercrantz to continue the series. Now the latest has been published, “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.”

    David joins me know.

    Thanks for being with us.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Thank you. It’s a pleasure.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, for people who are unfamiliar with the series, the central character here is someone who has just been crushed by society, but she does something different with the pain than you or I might.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    I mean, instead of getting crushed, instead of getting weak, she just gets stronger and stronger.

    And that’s really the amazing thing about her. She’s an outsider. And there is — of course, there’s a key moment in Lisbeth Salander’s life, and that is when she sees her evil father. She really had an evil father, abusing and raping her mother. And she understands that society will not do anything.

    So, she understands, even though she’s just 12 years old, that she’s the only one. So she tries to kill her father. And they put her in a mental hospital, and they try really to crush her. But there was something that got her going. So she’s really the revenger.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yes.

    Well, what is it about this character that so many people connect with?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    I think she really changed crime fiction.

    If we go back a couple of decades, the female, they were — female characters, they were victims. They were murdered, they were raped, and they needed — certainly, they needed a man to protect them or rescue them.

    Lisbeth Salander doesn’t need anyone. She’s the female cowboy, in a way, but with certain much better values. She’s a — really a feminist icon, I think.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In the book, there’s also a central male character, the journalist Mikael Blomkvist, right?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes, yes, yes.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I mean, here, in the United States’ version of the movie, we literally had the guy who plays James Bond playing him, right?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What was that transition like, where it almost seems like Stieg Larsson wanted him to be one of the central characters?

    But she became the star.

  • David Lagercrantz: 

    Yes, but that happens.

    But Mikael Blomkvist is a brilliant journalist, and he’s a crusader. He has all these good values, fighting against intolerance and for — fighting against injustice. But we have seen this kind of character. He’s more traditional.

    But Lisbeth was the new, great, brilliant invention of Stieg Larsson. So, in a way, Lisbeth is Sherlock Holmes, and Mikael Blomkvist turned a bit like Dr. Watson, even though he’s much more brilliant, of course, than Dr. Watson.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, this is the second book that you have picked up in the series. How do you strike that balance of creating freshness in a character that technically someone else has begun to frame and their life?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    I mean, what shall I say?

    I will always worship Stieg Larsson. I mean, he was the genius, the master who created this Lisbeth Salander, certainly.

    But I had to feel that she was mine. I had to go into the character. And when I try to understand how I should do it, I watched Christopher Nolan, you know, Batman movies. And he sort of…

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Oh, yes?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes, I really did that. And what he did was deepen the mythology of Batman, added darkness to it.

    So, I thought, it was one of my missions to answer questions that Stieg Larsson hasn’t had time to answer.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How do you keep the mystery in a character while you’re working to reveal more and more?

  • David Lagercrantz:

    I mean, that’s the tricky part.

    You should always try to understand a person, an icon person. You should try to answer questions. But you should never fully explain a person, because, if you fully understand the person, the person stops being interesting.

    So, I think Lisbeth Salander will and should always be an enigma. But we, the readers, and I, the writer, will try to deepen the enigma and try more things and find out more things about her.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There’s a lot of current events kind of weaved through this. You’re dealing with racism and hacking and misinformation.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    I mean, Stieg Larsson also has that kind of a moral core, that he wanted to talk about the things that were happening.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    And I think he was a very contemporary writer. He was dealing with issues of his time, trafficking. And I think that was part of his success.

    Lisbeth Salander certainly wasn’t. But he was moral crusader himself, so there is a moral pathos in the book. And it has to be.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You have different sort of subplots that are weaving in and out that are little bit more of a moment in 2016, 2017, when you’re writing this book.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes. Yes, yes, of course.

    I mean, we have the problem with unrelated violence, for example, an issue that certainly would concern Lisbeth Salander, who — I mean, they have taken the freedom from her.

    And then there, of course, is the big question we have with fake news, with disinformation, with hacking. So I think I’m preaching in the book and preaching now in interviews the value of good journalism, because now we know there are organized — there are hackers who are spreading lies and hatred.

    So we need good journalists more than ever. And people are bashing journalists, but doesn’t understand they are vital for democracy. So Mikael Blomkvist is certainly a hero that we need. And Lisbeth Salander is also a hero that we need, because now the most horrible hacker attack is done by the states, by Russia or whatever.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Not someone sitting in their bed.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Yes. So, now we need a hacker from the other side striking back.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The book is called “The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.”

    David Lagercrantz, thanks so much for joining us.

  • David Lagercrantz:

    Thank you. Pleasure.

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