This weekend I finished reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. I know, I know, I was late to the party on that one. I love mysteries, but don't often read them (I figure them out too easily, which is annoying). I was curious about this book, though. How does a translated series written by a dead Swedish author manage to sell 15 million copies in the US alone?
For one thing, the mystery was intriguing and difficult to solve. There were pieces I caught before the main character did, but I didn't put it all together. Also there was a surprise at the end I totally didn't see coming. But the real reason this book became popular (IMO) is the character Lisbeth Salazar. She's not even the main character (he's the hundredth reincarnation of the older-divorced-career-guy who is so self-involved he forgets his children exist for months at a time. I'm bored of him honestly). But Lisbeth Salazar--intensely private, yet she's an investigator who discovers the deepest secrets of others. She is vulnerable, vengeful, incredibly smart but ashamed of her abilities. She cares deeply about people, but is so jaded she's incapable of showing it in a way they can understand. She is INTERESTING.
There are a few scenes in this book that portray graphic sexual violence, and they are rather unsettling.
After I finished the book, I googled Stieg Larsson and learned that his inspiration for this story was having witnessed the gang rape of a girl named Lisbeth when he was fifteen. This experience left him with a life-long abhorrence of violence against women. I also read this: "[Larsson] was the second best-selling author in the world for 2008, behind Khaled Hosseini."
Khaled Hosseini. Have you read THE KITE RUNNER or A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS? Both stories are filled with rape, sodomy, domestic violence, violence in general. Yet THE KITE RUNNER spent 104 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List--that's two years! Hosseini's novels are two of the most important books I've ever read...because of the sex and violence.
Sexual violence in literature is a deterrent to sexual violence in city alleys after dark, and in a closed-door meeting between an advocate and the disabled girl who's at his mercy, and in the suburban house down the road where the husband has thrown back a few too many. I'm not talking about gratuitous violence that is tossed into a shoddy novel for the sensation factor--that just adds to the desensitization we experience from media's information overload.
Statistics don't transform me. Tragic stories on the 5 o'clock news might make me sigh and say, "What is the world coming to?", but that's the end of it. Reading a novel is a deeper experience, one with the potential to alter the way I view the world and what I value.
By the time Laila was forced to marry Rasheed in A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, I cared about her, deeply. I understood where she came from, everything she'd lost. I could relate to her. I could even see the world through her eyes as I read the story. So, when Rasheed beat her or raped her I couldn't separate myself from the crime. I felt in part what she felt in those moments. And it changed me.
It was the same with Hassan in THE KITE RUNNER, and Lisbeth Salandar in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. These authors didn't tell me rape is wrong, they showedme how wrong it is, and they did it with such heart and conviction that their message has spread to millions all around the world.
We are letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.