From Iceland — A Winning Heart: Larissa Kyzer Wins Award For Her Translation Of Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s 'A Fist Or A Heart'

A Winning Heart: Larissa Kyzer Wins Award For Her Translation Of Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s ‘A Fist Or A Heart’

Published February 20, 2020

Photo by
Caitlyn Morrissey

“It was a real honour to work on ‘A Fist or a Heart,’” beams Larissa Kyzer, English-language translator of Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s novel. For Larissa’s translation, she won an American-Scandinavian Foundation Award announced last month. “It was exciting for me personally because it’s nice to see my work being appreciated and validated. It’s also exciting because it was for this particular book.”

An emerging translator of Icelandic to English, Larissa focuses on bringing contemporary fiction and poetry to English readers. In Fall 2019, Larissa was translator in residence at Princeton University. She’ll return in Fall 2020 to teach a formal translation workshop. In addition to her academic adventures, Larissa is currently translating short stories by Fríða Ísberg as well as poetry and fiction by Kári Tulinius.

On winning the translation award, Larissa shares, “It’s very gratifying because it’s something that I put a lot of myself into. I specifically applied this time around because it was a project that I cared so much about. I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t think it was a fantastic translation of a book. It is such a fabulous book.”

Larissa Kyzer

Larissa Kyzer’s intimacy with Icelandic

Larissa Kyzer arrived in Iceland in 2012 to study via a Fulbright scholarship for one year. She extended her stay for an additional four years, which afforded her the opportunity to study a Masters in Translation at the University of Iceland. Though she has returned to the United States, Larissa still works with written Icelandic every day. She confides, “I email in Icelandic. I translate it. The more I do it, the faster I get and the better off my vocabulary is.”

While her work as a translator brings her an intimacy with written Icelandic, she jokes about the different relationship she has with spoken Icelandic. “If I went to the countryside and there was no English speaker, I could get by, though I would sound like a deranged child. I sometimes say I speak skrítlensku,” she explains, playfully blending the Icelandic word for “weird” (skrítið) and “Íslensku” (“Icelandic”… in Icelandic).

Living inside lit

Larissa’s passion for contemporary literature gives her a distinct insight into the life of a text. “Translation brings together all of the things I love: writing, reading, increasing engagement with text,” she explains. “It’s creative; you get to live inside the literature.”

“Translation brings together all of the things I love: writing, reading, increasing engagement with text. It’s creative; you get to live inside the literature.”

The idea to pursue translation first occurred to Larissa in college during literature classes. She subsequently sought out world literature, and was gifted a short-story collection by Icelandic authors. “I loved it. I read about this country that had such a strong literary history, that valued literature in this beautiful and active way. There were not as many people translating Icelandic then so I found that there was a niche there.”

Translating A Fist

Larissa shares how she landed the translation of Kristín’s book. “I was doing samples for Forlagið,” Larissa explains, “which the publisher takes to literary festivals to try and sell foreign rights. I was asked to sample A Fist or a Heart. There was a bidding war over the book, which was exciting. Amazon Crossing was really nice because they let me continue as the translator.”

Kristín’s writing first crossed Larissa’s desk when she was a student at the University of Iceland. “I loved her first novel Hvítfeld. There’s a short story—”Evelyn Hates Her Name”—from Kristín’s short story collection ‘Doris Deyr’ that I tried to translate before I was capable. It was too hard; I maxed out. I wasn’t far enough along in my language acquisition studies.”

During Larissa’s translation work for ‘A Fist or a Heart,’ she returned to “Evelyn Hates Her Name.” “I had the opportunity to go back to that story and publish it in an online journal,” Larissa recalls.

“I’m all in with Kristín’s work,” Larissa raves. “She is an incredible writer. I love how her writing slices to the heart of observations. She has amazing rhythms and trains of thought that split into grotesque streams. Fresh and unique.”

Larissa Kyzer’s recommended reading

While Larissa Kyzer is extremely partial to ‘A Fist or a Heart,’ she also recommends other Icelandic-to-English translations for folks excited to read contemporary literature.

  • ‘Reply To A Letter From Helga’ by Bergsveinn Birgisson, translated by Phillip Roughton
  • ‘The Greenhouse’ by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated by Brian FitzGibbon
  • ‘Cold Moons’ by Magnús Sigurðsson, translated by Meg Matich
  • ‘Bloodhoof’ by Gerður Kristný, translated by Rory McTurk
  • ‘Children in Reindeer Woods’ by Kristin Omarsdottir, translated by Lytton Smith
  • ‘Stormwarning’ by Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir, translated by K.B. Thors and
  • ‘The Stones Speak’ by Þórbergur Þórðarson, translated by Julian Meldon D’Arcy
  • ‘Under the Glacier’ by Halldór Laxness, translated by Magnús Magnússon

Check out Larissa Kyzer’s website here.

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