Get to Know the Mysteries-in-Translation Discussion Group

Getting to Know the Mysteries-in-Translation Discussion Group-featured

Facilitator: Linda A. Perkins

Years of operation: Five and a half years

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Tell us about your book group.

Our group began as a follow-up to a class, Murder on Ice: Crime and Detection in Scandinavian Literature, at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of California, Berkeley. It was such a terrific class, some of us decided to continue reading crime fiction that had been translated into English from another language, but didn’t limit the scope to Scandinavia. (We have, however, read quite a few Scandinavian mysteries.)

How does your group make its reading selections?

We make our selections in a very haphazard way. (This flies in the face of all that makes me a librarian, but it seems to work fairly well with this group. I’ve learned that it is NOT the book that makes the difference. It’s the chemistry of the group.) Sometimes, someone has read or heard about a title. Another time, it’s a book one of our members has read or wants to read. It could be a book someone saw in a library or bookstore. Occasionally, it’s a book one of us has already read. Frankly, our selection process is a mess, but somehow it’s OK.

Which book did your group collectively like the most this past year?

So far this year, our favorite books have been The Dying Detective by Leif G. W. Persson, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, and The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Which is the most divisive book your group has read, and why?

This is a “Berkeley group,” so nearly every book is divisive, and that makes for lively discussion. We agree on very little, and the the rare times we do agree, the discussions are short and boring. We prefer longer ones. It may sound strange, but we actually enjoy the disagreements. (Yes, no matter how wrong the other person may be.)

How do your group discussions work?

We try to begin by citing the book’s strengths, the ways the book excelled, or why we found it satisfying. We sometimes gradually, sometimes precipitously drift to the book’s shortcomings or failures. Why were we disappointed? We usually address the quality of the translation. We also discuss whether the book provided a convincing feel for the country, a glimpse of the culture. Or could the mystery have been set anywhere? Toward the end of the meeting, we recommend film, streaming, and TV mysteries set and/or produced in other countries.

What is your group most looking forward to reading this year?

When I asked the group this question, they stressed the fact that we’re seniors. We’re old, so we don’t really plan too far ahead. We simply look forward to the next meeting, the next book.

What is the best piece of advice you’d give a group that is just getting started?   

The group stressed the importance of the physical setting. Comfortable seating. Good acoustics for hearing the discussion.

Are you looking for new members?

We are not looking for new members, but we’re always open to someone who’s interested. We have a mailing list of 22 people. Two of the members have moved away, but wish to stay on the mailing list.

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