by Bonnie Mager, OLLI member
Wild Strawberries, Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal. For many people of a certain age these titles evoke memories of youth and nights spent in a dark theater, soaking up romantic images of mysterious places and times. Ingmar Bergman’s movies were all the rage in the late 50s and 60s, when seeing them bestowed a glint of sophistication and worldliness.
A couple of decades later, Linda Rugg, a farm girl from Nebraska City, discovered the wonders of New York City as a freshman at Barnard College, among which were the wealth of movie theaters. She "caught up" on the classics which had not been available at the one-screen Pioneer Theater in her hometown. Among those classics were the films of Bergman. She was fascinated.
Her interest in all things Swedish had been one of those "cosmic accidents," as she called it. As a high school German student, she convinced her parents to allow her a two-month stay in Germany, where she lived with a family and improved her language skills. After returning home, she wheedled and cajoled her skeptical parents to accept an exchange student from Germany for a year’s stay, expecting to further improve her German. The Lutheran organization that sponsored the exchange program instead delivered a 17-year-old girl from Sweden. Although to Linda’s disappointment, she spoke no German, her English was quite good, and she soon found a place for herself in Linda’s family. They became (and still are) the best of friends.
Linda went to live in Sweden two years later with her friend’s family in a town 100 miles northwest of Stockholm. Linda conversed only in Swedish, learned that the best way to get from one village to the next was by bike, and figured out how to live through the long dark winter days. She explained that instead of coming home from school and having a nap in the dark afternoon--at 3 pm the stars were out--she would strap on her cross-country skis and go for miles on the well-lighted ski trails around the town. In the summer, there was hiking and biking in the beautiful countryside. It was a life-altering year.
At Barnard College, she majored in German and English and discovered a great love of literature, movies, and mysteries from many countries. After graduation she felt as though she had just gotten started in her field, and further studies beckoned. Harvard offered a Ph.D. program in comparative literature, which she completed in 1989.
Linda currently teaches at UC Berkeley as an associate professor of Scandinavian and has published two books and many articles in her field (see her biography under Film Studies at Berkeley.edu). Her research and teaching interests include Bergman and Strindberg, autobiography, ecology and culture, and American literature and culture.
For her OLLI course, she will focus on mystery writing in Scandinavia, including current writers such as Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell (author of the Wallender stories) of Sweden and Karin Fossum of Norway. Students will be asked to read a book by a husband and wife team, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, who wrote many popular mysteries in the 60s.
When asked whether she has a mystery of her own to write, she hesitated, then explained that good mysteries are complicated to construct. There must be a depth of knowledge about the background time and place and an understanding of character and motive. But who knows--with her background and skills, one may some day emerge.