Posts featuring Gerður Kristný

The Voice of Interiority: Lytton Smith on Translating Sigrún Pálsdóttir’s History. A Mess.

[The inward-looking quality] structurally and stylistically governs how the novel is written, its very form.

Sigrún Pálsdóttir’s profound and inward-looking saga, History. A Mess., was July’s Asymptote Book Club selection, translated from Icelandic to English. Callum McAllister speaks to the novel’s translator, Lytton Smith, on the process of translating this sweeping and intuitive work. In this conversation, the two discuss the intricacies of translating the evasive language of space and the even more mysterious language of the inner self, and Lytton gives as well some much-appreciated recommendations of Icelandic literature.

Callum McAllister (CM): Iceland is well-known for its impressively high literary output and vibrant creative culture, but Icelandic isn’t a widely spoken language. Are you daunted by how much Icelandic literature has yet to be translated into English, or do you think it gives you more freedom to opt for your favorite texts? Is there anything you’d love to see in English or work on next?

Lytton Smith (LS): Definitely daunted, even as I’m excited by the opportunity! There are wonderful translators from Icelandic working to bring more books into English (which can then also be a gateway to other languages), but there’s a limit to how many presses are willing to do what Open Letter does and take a chance on publishing titles—especially when translations are hard to sell to readers. I’m looking forward to Sigrún’s next novel, which is in part about the theory that Icelanders “discovered” America, and Ófeigur Sigurðsson, whose novel Öræfi / The Wastelands I translated last year (Deep Vellum), has another two novels that center on volcanoes that I’d like to translate. And I’d love to translate another book by the amazing, singular Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Next up, I’m lucky to be translating some of Andri Snær Magnason’s work.


Poems by Icelandic Poet Gerður Kristný

Translated by Spenser Santos



Fog drowns the dale

so the ridgepeaks

no longer show


From Hraunslake

gasps carry in

crackling silence


Summereve in Gotland



stretches its tail

out in silvery waves


The sun strokes

a lightbow

over seaplain



get to play






goes to sleep

on a traffic island


Newsprint his down


Little room

for sleepwalking


in the seashallows

shines ironskin

of coldeyed sharks


Gerður Kristný’s poetry has charmed readers the world over. They have won her, among other honors, the Icelandic Literary Prize and nominations for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. Her most recent book of poetry, Drápa, tells the unsettling story of the night the mircus comes to town.

Spenser Santos is an MFA candidate in literary translation and Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Iowa. He translates from Spanish, Old English, and Icelandic. His translation thesis is a translation of the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch translation of the Book of Exodus. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Winona State University, where he majored in English, Spanish, and Writing.