‘Millennium’ author backs Danish media boycott

The Swedish author of the highly-anticipated sequel to the Millennium crime trilogy said Tuesday he supported a Danish newspaper boycott of him over his publisher's refusal to let literary critics read the book in advance.

'Millennium' author backs Danish media boycott
David Lagercrantz's book 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' hits Danish shelves on Thursday. Photo Asger Ladefoged/Scanpix
The boycott concerns David Lagercrantz's book 'The Girl in the Spider's Web' (Danish title: 'Det der ikke slår os ihjel') — the fourth instalment of Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy which is due for release in 25 countries on Thursday and in the United States on September 1st.
Larsson, who created the series, died 11 years ago and in December, Swedish publisher Norstedts said it had commissioned Lagercrantz to write a fourth instalment, although details of the plot have been shrouded in secrecy.
Media interviews with Lagercrantz ahead of the book's launch have been subjected to rigorous confidentiality agreements and Danish daily Politiken said it had been offered an interview with him in early June.
“Norstedts had an unusual condition: We would not be allowed to read the book before the interview!” Jes Stein Pedersen, the paper's cultural editor told public broadcaster Swedish Radio.
“An exceptional condition that we exceptionally enough ultimately agreed to, because Lagercrantz has written the book that everyone is going to be talking about this autumn,” he said. “Normally we would never speak to an author without having read the book first. We consider that to be part of our professionalism.”
But when Norstedts also required the newspaper to wait until the book's release date, August 27, to publish Lagercrantz's comments about his other work unrelated to Millennium, Politiken turned down the interview.
Lagercrantz, himself a journalist, told regional daily Goteborgs-Posten he found the whole situation “absurd”.
“I'm on the journalists' side in this. I don't know whether in hell I would have agreed to conditions like this myself,” he said.
Norstedts has gone to great lengths to keep fans in suspense about the book's plot.
Only a few people have read the 500-page tome — just translators and editors — and the writing of the novel was shrouded in secrecy, with the author, editors and translators working on computers disconnected from the internet to avoid leaks.
The first three Millennium books about tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, published in 2005-2007, have sold 80 million copies worldwide and have been made into Swedish and Hollywood movie

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INTERVIEW: ‘I talk about the things you are not supposed to talk about’

Born amid the horrors of war in Iraqi Kurdistan, Danish author Sara Omar now uses her voice to denounce violence inflicted on women in the name of reactionary Islam, a "calling" that has left her living under police protection.

INTERVIEW: 'I talk about the things you are not supposed to talk about'
Danish author Sara Omar. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

“I broke the taboo. I talk about the things you are not supposed to talk about. If I don't do this, who will?” the 34-year-old tells AFP in an interview in Copenhagen.

Her first novel “Dead Washer” sold more than 100,000 copies in Denmark when it was published in 2017, a literary feat in the country of 5.8 million where it was hailed as the “MeToo of Muslim women.”

It has since been translated into several languages, including Norwegian, Swedish and French.

In her writing and when she speaks out publicly, Omar describes abuse inflicted on women and children behind closed doors — rapes, beatings, female genital mutilation and so-called honour crimes.

Her depictions have angered a small fringe in Muslim societies and required her to now live under 24-hour police protection.

Her bestseller tells the story of a girl named Frmesk, which means “tear” in Kurdish.

It follows her from her birth in Sulaymaniah, Kurdistan, in 1986 — just like Omar — to a hospital bed in Denmark in 2016 where she meets a medical student, also a young Kurdish woman, who dreams of breaking free from her overly controlling father but doesn't dare.

Omar says that many Muslim women — especially in the Nordic countries, where they often find themselves caught between the liberalism of their adopted country and their parents' conservative values — have approached her to thank her for bringing their sufferings to life through Frmesk.

“My books have started a very quiet movement among women, especially women of Muslim background in Scandinavia, because they identify themselves with the topics and the characters in the novels,” Omar says.

“A reaction that affected me, and touched me in a way that I started crying, was from a woman between 45 and 50 years old. She came to me and she whispered in my ear: 'Thank you for giving me a voice'.”

Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

As combative as her protagonist, Omar now refuses to speak about her personal life, “due to her security situation and since her words can bring about severe consequences,” according to her assistant.

What is known from earlier interviews is this: After several years in refugee camps, Omar came to Denmark at the age of 15, like Frmesk. They also share a distinctive look — a streak of white in their jet-black hair.

Omar has previously revealed that she has been married, is “the mother of a murdered girl” and began writing Frmesk's story while in a psychiatric ward after several suicide attempts.

For her, writing books is not “a dream.”

“I see it as a calling, because I have sacrificed everything for it,” she says with a fiery look in her eye, which gives way to a melancholic smile as she refers to her security situation.

While she calls herself an “agnostic Muslim”, the author is not out to criticise Islam as such and says her message is universal. 

“Any monotheistic religion has a dark side and a light side. Islam also has this dark side but it is still up to interpretation. It's all about who is holding the book,” she says.

In a country preoccupied with immigrants who don't assimilate and which is still recovering from the explosive Mohammed cartoons scandal, Omar's ardent defence of freedom of speech has been warmly welcomed in Denmark.

“As long as we have other people who are threatening authors and people fighting for the right to use words… then we have a problem,” she says.

Omar isn't done telling Frmesk's story.

A sequel was published in 2019, “Shadow Dancer”, it too the recipient of literary prizes in Denmark.

“I'm not finished with Frmesk's story because I think she's more than an abused child and an oppressed woman. She's more than that. She's a fighter and I need to write the rest of the story,” she says.

Omar is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Political Science, and is translating her own books into Kurdish and Arabic, which she plans to publish at her own expense to avoid any censorship.

By Camille Bas-Wohlert

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