What You Need to Know About Stieg Larsson Before Seeing ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

Naomi Pfefferman over at the Jewish Journal has posted an interesting interview about Stieg Larsson of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” fame — just in time for the U.S. film release. (In theaters tomorrow!)

Pfefferman examines Larsson’s history fighting neo-Nazi movements in Europe and his grandfather’s time spent in a little known Swedish concentration camp.

I read Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and couldn’t put them down. An amazing investigation into modern evil – from the financial industry to far-right anti-democratic movements. With his fantastic protagonist Lisbeth Salander, Larsson flips the femme fatale script on its head. This girl uses her wicked smarts, rough-hewn moral code, and a vicious instinct for life to overcome her attackers. These novels are very violent–but it’s violence with a purpose and it takes readers into worlds where many people live and most of us would never ever want to visit.

Here’s an excerpt from Pfefferman’s article:

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the international best-selling “Millennium” series, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” died in 2004 at age 50 of a heart attack, before the publication of his crime thrillers made him one of the most famous writers of the decade. They have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, already spawned three Swedish films and, on Dec. 21, fans will no doubt be lining up for the opening of Hollywood’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, with a screenplay by the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” scribe Steven Zaillian. (The film opens in selected theaters on Dec. 20.)

But amid all this “Stieg industry,” as the late author’s life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, put it, a crucial element often has been overlooked: Just how much Larsson embedded in his novels a fundamental passion of his life — his crusade against neo-Nazism and violent far-right movements, which he viewed as anathema to Sweden and to all modern society.

“Those who see Stieg solely as an author of crime fiction have never truly known him,” Gabrielsson writes in her memoir, “There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me” (released last June by Seven Stories,and due out in paperback on Jan. 10). The “Millennium” series, she said, “is only one episode in Steig’s journey through this world, and it certainly isn’t his life’s work.”

“The trilogy is an allegory of the individual’s eternal fight for justice and morality, the values for which Stieg Larsson fought until the day he died,” Marie-Francoise Colombani wrote in the foreword to Gabrielsson’s book. … –by Naomi Pfefferman

Read Pfefferman’s whole article.

e-Vatican: 142 Years of Official Documents Go Online

Benedict and RowanFrom 1865 until 2007. From Pope Pius IX to Benedict XVI. There will no doubt be much scholarly debate on this new online content once these 142 years of monthly Vatican reports get translated out of Latin (!) into something the contemporary world understands.

The initial point of interest seems to be the unofficial texts relating to the period around the Second World War. These documents are separated out in files of their own.

The Catholic Church’s role in WWII has long been a tension between Jewish leaders and the Vatican. One the one hand Pope Pius XII signed the Reichskonkordat between Germany and the Vatican in 1933 to support Hitler’s moves against Communism; and many Catholics at every level of the society aligned with the Nazis in their “purity” campaign, including assisting in exposing and killing Jews. On the other hand, there was a strong underground Catholic popular movement to resist Hitler and to protect Jews from harassment, imprisonment, and execution.

The newly accessible Vatican files should offer greater understanding of the dynamics of the time and hopefully bring greater honesty and authenticity to Catholic-Jewish relations. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 2009, some Jewish leaders asked him to open “all Vatican archives” regarding the pontificate of Pius XII, from 1939 to 1958, and to thoroughly investigate his policy regarding Jews. Now, that has been done.

The Vatican has proved itself capable of transparency on the very difficult issue of WWII and the Holocaust. Will it be so bold to act with transparency on the pedophilia scandal?

Here’s an excerpt from Luigi Sandri’s article on the new online content:

The documents show that during the pontificate of Paul VI, from 1963 to 1978, there was concerted discussion on accusations of “silence” by Pius XII during the Second World War on the Holocaust.

Accusations were that Pius XII never openly and unequivocally protested against the Holocaust and some historians have accused him of accepting actions of Nazi Germany under its dictator Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican has often rebutted this accusation by saying that while it did not condemn the Holocaust, Pius XII strongly encouraged a wide network of Roman Catholics – in parishes, families and monasteries – throughout Europe to help thousands of Jews escape death.

Documents show that Pope Paul VI entrusted a group of four Jesuit historians, headed by the Rev. Pierre Blet, to edit the Acts and documents of Holy See regarding the Second World War.

From 1965 to 1981 the group published 12 volumes. They contain not only official documents, but also letters of the secretary of state, of papal nuncios, and private letters of bishops to the pope. On the whole, according to the Vatican, these documents show that the Holy See did a lot to help Jews during the period.

Read the whole article here.

Dorothy Day: Previously Unpublished 1933 Essay ‘Our Brothers, The Jews’ Published for First Time

Dorothy Day, 1925
Dorothy Day, 1925

Fr. Charles Gallagher has discovered a previously unpublished essay by Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, which lay in a correspondence file in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University. I’m stunned!

Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.

The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.

Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.

Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.

“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.

Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:

For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.

God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”

Read the whole essay here.

The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?

I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”

Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.

When the ‘Shoes of the Fisherman’ Are a Mite Too Tight

rule of bSunday’s Washington Post had an interesting article by David Gibson on Pope Benedict’s radical regressive reforms. For the Pope who predicted he’d only have the papacy for a few short years, he’s certainly getting a lot of mileage out of it. It appears that this pope is outgrowing the Fisherman’s shoes with all the changes he wants to make.

Gibson, a religion journalist, is author of the book The Rule of Benedict, a psychological profile of Benedict XVI and his battle with the modern world.

Here’s an excerpt from Gibson’s article:

Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time. …

Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.

More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.

That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.

Read Gibson’s whole article.