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Watch your language

Three riveting foreign books are finally available in English.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson; translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland; Knopf, $24.95; out Sept 19

SYNOPSIS
The American title of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish thriller makes it sound something like Tomb Raider. But Larsson, who died in 2004, was a lefty with a conscience, and this first volume in his “Millennium Trilogy” is actually a forceful indictment of the violence that half of society perpetrates on the other half: The original title translates as “Men Who Hate Women.”

Lest you think we’re recommending a political tract, know that Larsson’s novel (his U.S. debut) could serve as the definition of page-turner. After losing a libel suit against one of his targets, discredited financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist quits his job at investigative magazine Millennium and accepts a lucrative assignment: tracking down a woman who went AWOL 36 years ago. Teaming up with a charismatic, asocial hacker named Lisbeth Salander (the titular inked girl), Blomkvist discovers the bloody truth behind one of the most powerful families in Sweden; as if this weren’t enough, Larsson adds a parallel plot involving financial corruption. The two leads are compellingly complex and always wrestle with the boundaries of right and wrong, propelling the novel well past standard thriller goalposts. The worst part: We have to wait until summer ’09 for the second installment.

BACKSTORY
The “Millennium Trilogy” is the Rent of contemporary lit: Larsson delivered the manuscripts for all three books to his publisher just months before dying of a heart attack. There are now almost 8 million copies of the trilogy in print, and one out of every three Swedes owns a “Millennium” book. Because they weren’t married, Larsson’s partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, was shut out of the considerable royalties, which have gone to blood relatives. She and the family have been embroiled in very public feud, as well as a fight over Larsson’s computer, which is said to contain volume four. In a further wrinkle, this past May, a 1977 will was discovered, in which Larsson bequeathed his (then-nonexistent) monies to an obscure Communist group in northern Sweden. The will was invalidated, but it’s clear that his legacy is as tumultuous as anything he could have dreamed up.

— Elisabeth Vincentelli

EXCERPT

His contempt for his fellow financial journalists was based on something that in his opinion was as plain as morality. The equation was simple. A bank director who blows millions on foolhardy speculations should not keep his job. A managing director who plays shell company games should do time. A slum landlord who forces young people to pay through the nose and under the table for a one- room apartment with shared toilet should be hung out to dry. The job of the financial journalist was to examine the sharks who created interest crises and speculated away the savings of small investors, to scrutinise company boards with the same merciless zeal with which political reporters pursue the tiniest steps out of line of ministers and members of Parliament. He could not for the life of him understand why so many influential financial reporters treated mediocre financial whelps like rock stars. These recalcitrant views had time after time brought him into conflict with his peers. Borg, for one, was going to be an enemy for life. His taking on a role of social critic had actually transformed him into a prickly guest on TV sofas— he was always the one invited to comment whenever any CEO was caught with a golden parachute worth billions. Mikael had no trouble imagining that champagne bottles had been uncorked in some newspapers’ back rooms that evening.

Excerpted from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Copyright © 2008 by Stieg Larsson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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To Siberia - Per Petterson

To Siberia

By Per Petterson; translated from Norwegian by Anne Born; Graywolf Press, $22; out Sept 30

SYNOPSIS
Per Petterson’s To Siberia is a frostbitten, beautifully rendered addition to the “family can really screw you up” genre. Set in Denmark in the ’30s and ’40s, the book is narrated by a restless woman—a character Petterson inhabits with uncanny familiarity—who dreams of leaving Jutland for the Soviet tundra (she has a childlike infatuation with the Trans-Siberian railroad). Traumatized by her grandfather’s suicide, the heroine wants to escape her religious nut of a mother and unyielding father. The young girl’s only source of affection is her charismatic brother, Jesper—who is, like her, stricken with wanderlust. Eventually, Jesper abandons his sister to join the resistance against the Nazis, and the narrator finds herself completely adrift, floating from relationship to relationship in a futile attempt to fill the void left by her brother. Petterson’s protagonist—23, brilliant, pregnant and without hope when we leave her—is a heartbreaking portrait of lost possibilities.

BACKSTORY
Unlike the other two authors here, Petterson is (a) alive and (b) the leader of a mostly quiet life as a librarian-cum-novelist, but his books reveal an interest in dark nights of the soul and personal chaos. “I was a lousy librarian,” he says. “I loved to push books, but was too impatient for the work.” His American breakthrough, Out Stealing Horses, hit shelves in his native Norway in 2003 but didn’t appear here until last year. In fact, Petterson had seven critically acclaimed books before an American publisher decided to back him. When one finally did, it was the independent press Graywolf. “We were floored by the success of Out Stealing Horses,” relates Graywolf staffer Mary Matze. “Of course, we all knew that the book was special, but we were unsure what do about its quiet nature.” They’re banking on To Siberia to increase Petterson’s international stature even further. The author is equally optimistic. “It is always difficult to translate the tone,” he says, “but in some places it is perhaps better in English than Norwegian.”

— Drew Toal

NEXT: Missive impossible Novelist Michael Kimball reinvents the suicide note.»

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Missive impossible

Novelist Michael Kimball reinvents the suicide note.

By Michael Miller

Michael Kimball

According to Michael Kimball, most novelists gamble every time they sit down to write. “You spend this huge amount of time on something that might be read by no one,” the 41-year-old author tells TONY from his home in Baltimore. But this anxiety didn’t stop him from raising the stakes in his latest novel, Dear Everybody, a deeply sad, frequently comic account of the life of TV meteorologist Jonathon Bender, who commits suicide before the book opens. What’s especially risky and potentially off-putting is the story’s fragmentary mode: It’s made up of Jonathon’s many short, postcardlike suicide notes to people from his past; interviews with family members (in particular an angry and abusive father); and excerpts from eulogies given at Jonathon’s funeral. What’s more, the book has supposedly been assembled by an unreliable editor, the deceased character’s brother Robert, who by his own admission pretty much loathed Jonathon for his entire life.

Dear Everybody has already won fans as diverse as Stephen King and Dave Eggers, but Kimball says that some early readers were skeptical of his storytelling approach. “I had a friend who saw a draft of the book, and he said, ‘You can’t do this!’ ” the author recalls. “He said, ‘You have a letter and then the mother’s diary entry and then another letter, and there’s this letter about a trip to the barbershop, but there’s no description of the chair or the mirrors or all the stuff on the barber’s counter.’ ” But Kimball argues that all those images are embedded in his novel, even if they aren’t explicitly detailed. “I might not have put those descriptions in the book, but I made my friend think of all those things, and that’s what I was going for. I wanted to reinvent the letter.”

And he does: In addition to writing stunning prose, Kimball evocatively hints at entire physical and emotional worlds lying just behind his story’s surface. In many cases, the author’s verbal compression both amplifies and dampens the tragic clamor of Jonathon’s letters, which always stop short of becoming a litany of complaints. “The danger of overexplaining a character’s sadness is that you open yourself up to sentimentality,” the author says of his decision to keep his hero’s salvos well pruned. Kimball’s concision also yields discomfiting moments of grim humor. “Thanks for my severance package,” Jonathon concludes in a note to a boss who fired him for not going to work. “I lived on it for the rest of my life.” These aren’t exactly postcards to stick on the refrigerator, but they harbor such a strange emotional power that you’ll find them hard to forget. Kimball’s risks paid off.

Dear Everybody (Alma Books, $19.95) is out Mon 1. Kimball reads with Hannah Tinti at KGB Oct 12 and with Sam Lipsyte at Word Oct 22.

NEXT: <em>Pretty</em> scary Kelly Link may be afraid of the dark, but pigeonholes don't freak her out.»

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Pretty scary

Kelly Link may be afraid of the dark, but pigeonholes don't freak her out.

By Carolyn Juris

Since Kelly Link’s first two story collections, 2001’s Stranger Things Happen and 2005’s Magic for Beginners, were honored on several best-of-the-year lists, it was inevitable that the indie superstar would be scooped up by the majors. In October, Viking is releasing Pretty Monsters, her latest anthology of spine-tinglers. The publisher and the intended audience—young adults—may be new, but Link’s signature mix of sci-fi, fantasy and horror continues to thrill.

Do you risk losing your core audience by targeting young readers?
It’s entirely possible. There’s definitely a stigma attached to certain kinds of fiction. But I don’t mind it. I just turned 39 and I still browse in the young-adult section.

You write about ghosts, werewolves and a global pandemic. What frightens you?
The basic stuff—the dark, flying. And being cut in half, oddly enough. But I love ghost stories, and the frisson you get when something really strange happens.

In “The Surfer,” a father and son fly to Costa Rica in search of extraterrestrials. If you found out that aliens were coming, would you head straight toward them or run away?
I think I might head into the cellar. [Laughs] I’m not much of a risk taker—I calculate The odds before I do anything. I wanted a tattoo for years and couldn’t decide what to get. I signed up for Shelley Jackson’s Skin project—it’s a story that’s being published in tattoos. I spent four months deciding what font to have on my body. It’s actually just the word skin. I was really glad that I didn’t end up with a word like don’t.

Pretty Monsters (Viking, $19.99) is out Oct 2.

NEXT: The odds »

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ODDS

Savannah Knoop - JT LeRoy

50% That Candace Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue (Sept 23) will be referred to in future studies of 21st-century consumerism.

0% That a presidential candidate will declare Stephenie Meyer his favorite writer during the final campaign stretch.

35% That Nelson DeMille’s The Gate House (Oct 28), a tale of murder and manners on Long Island, will knock Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules out of the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list.

85% That no one will care about Savannah Knoop’s Girl Boy Girl (Oct 1), which explains how she became the face of fictional author JT LeRoy.

25% That Malcolm Gladwell’s study of the successful (The Outliers, Nov 18) will elicit even more blogosphere resentment than Chuck Klosterman’s Downtown Owl (Sept 16).

45% That Oprah’s Book Club followers will call in sick at least one day during the week of November 10, which will see the publication of new novels by both Toni Morrison and Wally Lamb.


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