Meg Matich ’15 Translates Icelandic Modernist Ásta Sigurðardóttir 

Carlos Barragán
March 01, 2024

Writing alumna Meg Matich ’15 has translated Ásta Sigurðardóttir's Nothing To Be Rescued (Nordisk Books, 2023), introducing her stories to English-speaking readers for the first time.

Sigurðardóttir, who died in 1971, marked the breakthrough of modernism in Icelandic prose. Her poetic and beautifully hallucinogenic stories, often written from the perspective of a naïve girl or young woman, grapple with violence in mid-twentieth century Iceland from the vantage points of marginalized voices. Many narrativize strife—sexual, physical, and psychological abuse; houselessness, alcoholism, and income inequality; extramarital pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and child loss—while still others vibrate with the natural forces of Iceland.  

“Ásta’s work continues to thrive because of [her] tremendous, giving love for language and literature, but it also lives on through the familiarity of these stories, their symmetry with other women’s experiences of shame, neglect, harm—and of power, resilience, care,” Matich wrote in the preface of this new edition. “They are the stories of those whose stories go untold. Ásta approaches these subjects with, in the poet Sjón’s words, “restrained anger and compassion for those [she] had broken bread with on her own turbulent journey."

Matich selected the title of this slim volume, Nothing to be Rescued, rather than the name of Ásta's best-known story and the title of her 1961 collection, because of “the phrase’s interpretive possibilities. It is the meeting point of self-assertion and self-erasure: where love and fear collide,” she wrote. “These stories, ten of many, hold powerful warnings. In Ásta’s frissonic prose, they are living wonders, too."

Meg Matich is a poet and translator of Icelandic, German, and Danish, who earned her MFA from Columbia University. Her translations have received praise from outlets like  New York Times, Oprah, and Vulture. She is the translator of six works, and the author of one original poetry collection. She's received support for her work from UNESCO, PEN America, and the Fulbright Commission, the DAAD, and others. Matich is one of few immigrant members of the Writers Union of Iceland, a step she considers quintessential to her life as an immigrant in Iceland.