National Danish Book Club & Literary Event Series

Explore a selection of Danish literature in English translation with a nationwide book club! Each month a celebrated Danish author is selected and discussed in a virtual setting via Zoom and YouTube.

Book Club Discussions are moderated by Faculty Associate Nete Schmidt from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Former Danish lecturer, Désirée Ohrbeck, facilitates the accompanying Literary Events.

Current and classic works of Danish literature are read and discussed, accompanied by author and special guest interviews. Please note, Book Club meetings are recorded.

To become a free member of the book club and to receive updates, recordings, discussion questions, and reminders, sign up for our book club newsletter!

Programs are a collaboration of:
Museum of Danish America, Northwest Danish Association

The series is made possible by support from:
Scan Design Foundation, Danish American Heritage Society, University of Washington Scandinavian Studies Department

Promotional Partners include:
National Foundation for Danish America, Elverhoj Museum, National Nordic Museum

Recent news

Welcome back to the National Danish Book Club & Literary Series!

We are pleased to launch a second year of exploring Danish literature in English translation.  As we finalize the details for the full program calendar, here are the plans for September and October – grab a book, get reading, and join the conversation.  We also have a preview list of books for the following three months available. All are welcome, and all programs are available free of charge.

2022-2023 National Danish Book Club Series Books

December 2022

The Land of Short Sentences, Stine Pilgaard, 272 pages

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Book Club discussion on Tuesday, December 13, 5pm Pacific (7pm Central, 8pm Eastern)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 861 3866 0753
Passcode: 839621

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About the book:

A young mother follows her partner to a rural community in West Jutland, Denmark, where he teaches at the local school for adult education. Isolated, she is forced to find her way in a bewildering community and in the inscrutable conversational forms of the local population.

Purchase the book on Amazon HERE.

Download the discussion questions HERE.

More information soon regarding December’s Literary Event.

January 2023

The Shadow Murders by Jussi Adler-Olsen
A Department Q Novel, 448 pages

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About the book:
In the exhilarating penultimate thriller of the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling Department Q series, the team must hunt for a nefarious criminal who has slipped under the radar for decades.

On her sixtieth birthday, a woman takes her own life. When the case lands on Detective Carl Mørck’s desk, he can’t imagine what this has to do with Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold cases division since the cause of death seems apparent. However, his superior, Marcus Jacobsen, is convinced that this is related to an unsolved case that has been plaguing him since 1988.
 
At Marcus’s behest, Carl and the Department Q gang—Rose, Assad, and Gordon—reluctantly begin to investigate. And they quickly discover that Marcus is onto something: Every two years for the past three decades, there have been unusual, impeccably timed deaths with connections between them that cannot be ignored, including mysterious piles of salt at the scenes. As the investigation goes deeper, it emerges that these “accidents” are in fact part of a sinister murder scheme.
 
Faced with their toughest case yet, made only more difficult by COVID-19 restrictions and the challenges of their personal lives, the Department Q team must race to find the culprit before the next murder is committed, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the killer is far from finished.

Purchase the book on Amazon HERE

February 2023

The Fall of the King, Johannes V Jensen,
296 pages

March 2023

Baboon, Naja Marie Aidt, 198 pages

April 2023

Anger is my Middle Name, Lisbeth Zornig Andersen, 230 pages

May 2023

Last Night in Nuuk, Niviaq Korneliussen, 288 pages

“What a FABULOUS discussion! We so enjoyed the presentation by Nete
and hearing the diverse opinions of the other participants.”

— Book Club Participant

“This is the best book club I have ever been in!”

— Book Club Participant


About Our Book Club Moderator

Nete Schmidt

Nete Schmidt, a native of Aarhus, received her degrees in English and Danish from the University of Copenhagen and taught at Bjerringbro Junior College and the University of Aarhus for many years. She came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998, and following eight years as Visiting Assistant Professor, she became a Faculty Associate in the Scandinavian Studies Unit in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic (GNS). She has been teaching Danish and Scandinavian Literature courses such as The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Criminal utopias, and Sexual Politics in Scandinavia.

In 2008, she started The Danish Book Club in Madison, and it is still going strong.  She is also a member of several other book clubs and thoroughly enjoys reading and discussing literature.

She hopes that the National Danish Book Club will provide its participants with a number of interesting, thought-provoking, new, and old books to read and discuss.  And discussion and participation in a very relaxed manner is definitely an important aspect.  Everybody is invited to share thoughts and ideas in a non-judgmental, non-biased, respectful, and very open setting, so every book club will be a different experience depending on the participants and their views. There is, of course, no obligation to participate if one is more inclined to listen and absorb the opinions of others, but rather than lecturing or teaching, there will be open discussion.  As always, with literature, there are no right or wrong thoughts or answers; what matters is interest, engagement, and a willingness to share one’s thoughts.

About Our Literary Event Faciliator

Désirée Ohrbeck

Désirée Ohrbeck served as a Danish Lecturer at the Scandinavian Studies Department at University of Washington from 2010-2016. She is now a proud board member for University of Washington Scandinavian Studies Advisory Board. Désirée M. Ohrbeck is a columnist writer for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and a frequent contributor in Danish media both on TV and radio. She has written op-eds, commentaries, and essays for Politiken, Berlingske Tidende and Jyllands-Posten.

“I am not afraid to reflect on and ask questions centering around life choices, culture and religion, something I intend to utilize in my interviews with Danish authors. I am straight forward, and it is important to me to deal with topics in a way that is focused on bringing everyone in on the conversation in dealing with topics that affects all people. What better place to do this than in a conversation about literature?”

On a personal note, Désirée serves as an advisory board member on the Bellevue Gifted Alliance Advisory Board, representing highly capable learners with a learning disability (2E kids).

Previous Events:

September 2022Justine by Iben Mondrup

Book Club discussion was Tuesday, September 13, 5pm Pacific (7pm Central, 8pm Eastern)
View the recording HERE.

About the book: Stylistically provocative, Justine tells the story of a young female artist whose life is upended when her house burns down with all of the paintings for her upcoming exhibit inside. With little time left to recreate everything she’s lost, Justine embarks on a series of sexual escapades with a sort of doomed intensity that foreshadows the novel’s final, dark twist. Through flashbacks and fragmented memories, we see Justine as a student at the Art Academy first discovering the misogynistic order that rules the Danish art world, and later on as she constantly challenges its expectations–both in the studio and in bed. A personal meditation on artistic identity, the creative process, and the male-dominated art scene, the novel veers between the erotic and the savage, resulting in a spellbinding read from one of Denmark’s edgiest contemporary feminist writers.

Download the discussion questions HERE.

October 2022The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen

Book Club discussion was Tuesday, October 11, 5pm PT (7pm Central, 8pm Eastern)
View the recording HERE.
View Nete’s PowerPoint about Tove Ditlevsen HERE.

About the book: Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969–71) is her acknowledged masterpiece. Childhood tells the story of a misfit child’s single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.

Throughout, the narrator grapples with the tension between her vocation as a writer and her competing roles as daughter, wife, mother, and drug addict, and she writes about female experience and identity in a way that feels very fresh and pertinent to today’s discussions around feminism. Ditlevsen’s trilogy is remarkable for its intensity and its immersive depiction of a world of complex female friendships, family and growing up—in this sense, it’s Copenhagen’s answer to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. She can also be seen as a spiritual forerunner of confessional writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Annie Ernaux, Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy. Her trilogy is drawn from her own experiences but reads like the most compelling kind of fiction.

Born in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen in 1917, Ditlevsen became famous for her poetry while still a teenager, and went on to write novels, stories, and memoirs. Having been dismissed by the critical establishment in her lifetime as a working-class female writer, she is now being rediscovered and championed as one of Denmark’s most important modern authors.

Download the discussion questions HERE.

A discussion with the translator of Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, Michael Goldman, is available from the YouTube channel of the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.

There is a second October Literary Event for The Copenhagen Trilogy! Watch the interview between event series facilitator Desiree Ohrbeck and Copenhagen architect and urban planner, Lykke Leonardsen. They have a fascinating discussion of what Copenhagen was like in the 30s and 40s when Tove Ditlevsen was growing up, and then they go on to discuss the successes and challenges of transforming Copenhagen into a sustainable and resilient city. 

November 2022Agatha by Anne Cathrine Bomann

Book Club discussion was Tuesday, November 15, 5pm Pacific (7pm Central, 8pm Eastern)
Recording will be available soon.

About the book: A psychiatrist is counting down towards his upcoming retirement. He lives alone in his childhood home and has neither friends nor family.

Often, he resorts to drawing bird caricatures of his patients instead of taking notes. His social life consists of brief conversations with his meticulous secretary Madame Surrugue, who has reigned over the clinic for more than thirty years. The two of them have no relationship outside the office, where everything runs smoothly and uneventfully.

Until one day, that is, when a young German woman called Agatha arrives and demands to see the doctor and he soon realizes that underneath her fragile exterior is a strong and fascinating woman. The doctor and Agatha embark upon a course of therapy together, a process that forces the doctor to confront his fear of true intimacy outside the clinic. But is it too late to reconsider your existence as a 71-year-old?

Download the discussion questions HERE.

November Literary Event

Season 1: 2021-2022



September 2021 – This Should be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle

Dorte is twenty and adrift, pretending to study literature at Copenhagen University. In reality she is riding the trains and clocking up random encounters in her new home by the railway tracks. She remembers her ex, Per – the first boyfriend she tells us about, and the first she leaves – as she enters a new world of transient relationships, random sexual experiences and awkward attempts to write.

  • Tuesday September 14 5:00PM Pacific / 8:00PM Eastern – Group discussion
  • Tuesday September 21 – 10:00AM Pacific / 1:00PM Eastern – Literary Event: Simulcast on Facebook and YouTube

Event series facilitator Désirée Ohrbeck talked to Claus Elholm Andersen, Ph.D., the Paul and Renate Madsen Assistant Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Andersen has written extensively on the Danish contemporary writer Helle Helle and in 2018 edited a special issue about her writings for Spring, a scholarly journal.

Watch this conversation for free on Facebook or YouTube, hosted virtually by the Museum of Danish America:

YouTube

Facebook

October 2021 – The Employees by Olga Ravn

Structured as a series of witness statements compiled by a workplace commission, The Employees follows the crew of the Six-Thousand Ship which consists of those who were born, and those who were made, those who will die, and those who will not. When the ship takes on a number of strange objects from the planet New Discovery, the crew is perplexed to find itself becoming deeply attached to them and human and humanoid employees alike start aching for the same things: warmth and intimacy, loved ones who have passed, shopping and child-rearing, our shared, far-away Earth, which now only persists in memory.

  • Tuesday October 12 5:00PM Pacific – 8:00PM Eastern – Group discussion
  • Tuesday October 19 10:00AM Pacific – 1:00PM Eastern – Pre-recorded (American Scandinavian Foundation) Author Interview with Olga Ravn

Download a copy of the discussion questions for the book club taking place on October 12th.

November 2021 – Victim 2117  by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Jussi Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s #1 crime writer and a New York Times bestselling author. His books routinely top the bestseller lists in Europe and have sold more than twenty-four million copies around the world. In Victim 2117, readers finally learn the backstory of Assad, the mysterious middle easterner who is one of the 4 detectives who constitute Department Q. 

Discussion questions: Download the discussion questions for the book club meeting about Victim 2117.

December 2021 – Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Denmark, 1870s. Two deeply religious elderly sisters living in an isolated village take in a French refugee from the Franco-Prussian war, Babette. She becomes their housekeeper and is happy to work for no pay. 14 years later, Babette wins a large amount of money in a lottery. The event coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the sisters’ father, a devout Christian minister who had a great following in the village. Babette decides to throw a great dinner for the remaining followers to honor the occasion. One thing: the dinner will be French and once the ingredients start to arrive, the unsophisticated villagers suspect that something unholy is about to take place.


Tuesday December 14 5:00PM Pacific – 8:00PM Eastern – Group discussion – Watch the recording on YouTube

Download the discussion questions for the book club on December 14.

Thursday December 16 10:00AM Pacific – 1:00PM Eastern – Literary event (Special guest interview)Watch the recording on YouTube

For the book in Danish, follow this link: Babette’s Gæstebud.

January: We The Drowned (Vi, de druknede) by Carsten Jensen

Discussion Topics: Nete Schmidt has prepared a set of discussion topics to guide the book club meeting.

About the book: Hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, Denmark, whose inhabitants sailed the world from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War. The novel tells of ships wrecked and blown up in wars, of places of terror and violence that continue to lure each generation; there are cannibals here, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, and miraculous survivals. The result is a brilliant seafaring novel, a gripping saga encompassing industrial growth, the years of expansion and exploration, the crucible of the first half of the twentieth century, and most of all, the sea.

“A generational saga, a swashbuckling sailor’s tale, and the account of a small town coming into modernity—both Melville and Steinbeck might have been pleased to read it.”—New Republic

February: The Liar (Løgneren) by Martin A. Hansen

February 15th book club discussion questions by Nete Schmidt: Download the questions here.

About the book: The Liar is one of Danish novelist Martin A. Hansen’s best-known and popular fictions. Published in 1950, the story, which takes place shortly after World War II, is told in the first person and concerns the inhabitants of a tiny island in the Danish archipelago. In this absorbing psychological work, the author probes deeply into the mind of Johannes Vig, the local schoolmaster, a lonely figure whose relationship with his fellow islanders is gradually revealed in the diary on which he retrospectively comments. The story lays bare not only his self-doubts, but his belief in the goodness of man, both of which become increasingly more complex and contradictory as the story unfolds.

Find the book on Amazon.

March: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Spejl, skulder, blink) by Dorthe Nors

  • Tuesday, March 8th 10:00 AM (PT) /1:00 PM (ET) Literary Event: Interview with Dorthe Nors – Watch the interview on YouTube.

Download the discussion questions for the book club meeting.

About the book: A smart, witty novel of driving lessons and vertigo, short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize!

Sonja is ready to get on with her life. She’s over forty now, and the Swedish crime novels she translates are losing their fascination. She sees a masseuse, tries to reconnect with her sister, and is finally learning to drive. But under the overbearing gaze of her driving instructor, Sonja is unable to shift gears for herself. And her vertigo, which she has always carefully hidden, has begun to manifest at the worst possible moments.

Sonja hoped her move to Copenhagen years ago would have left rural Jutland in the rearview mirror. Yet she keeps remembering the dramatic landscapes of her childhood―the endless sky, the whooper swans, the rye fields―and longs to go back. But how can she return to a place that she no longer recognizes? And how can she escape the alienating streets of Copenhagen?


Find the book on Amazon.

April: The Man in the Lighthouse by Erik Valeur


About the book: All his life, Viggo Larssen has been haunted by the same troubling dream, which he calls the Omen―a vision of a woman beckoning to him from the surface of a churning sea. Now, as he broods over his shipwrecked existence in a remote lighthouse off the outermost coast of Denmark, he is about to be borne backward by the current to a past he thought he had escaped forever.

On the Danish mainland, the widowed mother of the nation’s prime minister mysteriously vanishes from her prestigious nursing home. As the police search for clues, evidence mounts that her disappearance is tied to an unsolved crime from Viggo’s childhood. Told through the eyes of multiple characters from Viggo’s old neighborhood, Erik Valeur’s dark, serpentine mystery is a profound meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of dreams, and the secrets we hide from one another―and ourselves.

Find the book on Amazon.



May: After the Sun by Jonas Eika


About the book: Under Cancún’s hard blue sky, a beach boy provides a canvas for tourists’ desires, seeing deep into the world’s underbelly. An enigmatic encounter in Copenhagen takes an IT consultant down a rabbit hole of speculation that proves more seductive than sex. The collapse of a love triangle in London leads to a dangerous, hypnotic addiction. In the Nevada desert, a grieving man tries to merge with an unearthly machine.

After the Sun opens portals to our newest realities, haunting the margins of a globalized world that’s both saturated with yearning and brutally transactional. Infused with an irrepressible urgency, Eika’s fiction seems to have conjured these far-flung characters and their encounters in a single breath. Juxtaposing startling beauty with grotesquery, balancing the hyperrealistic with the fantastical—“as though the worlds he describes are being viewed through an ultraviolet filter,” in one Danish reviewer’s words—he has invented new modes of storytelling for an era when the old ones no longer suffice.


Find the book on Amazon.

Additional Information:

The books should be available for purchase through independent booksellers, and digital versions may also be available through online resellers. Please contact one of the participating organizations if you have difficulty purchasing one of the selections. 

  • Danish American Heritage Society
  • Elverhoj Museum – Solvang
  • Museum of Danish America – Elk Horn, Iowa
  • National Foundation for Danish America – Chicago
  • National Nordic Museum – Seattle
  • Northwest Danish Association – Seattle
  • ScanDesign Foundation – Seattle
  • University of Washington Scandinavian Studies

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