Lárus Rist: One Man's Icelandic Journey

By Larry G. Thorderson


How was Iceland’s national sovereignty regained once it was lost? No path to freedom is easy; only when hearts, hands, and minds join in purpose is such a thing possible. One man’s autobiography, "Synda eða sökkva" by Lárus Rist, retraces the paths taken by this singular, yet ordinary Icelander in the final decades of his nation’s 680-year-long struggle to regain national independence.

Black and white portrait or Lárus Rist
Portrait of Lárus Rist

Educated at the Möðruvellir School in northern Iceland and Askov College in southern Denmark, Lárus Rist knew and befriended many of the leading Icelanders of his day; Rist’s book provides a valuable resource for those who seek to understand these men and women. He weaves together dates, interactions with acquaintances and friends, and depictions of his accomplishments; his text, deftly illuminated by his sly and self-deprecating wit, provides a unique view of the cultural and economic growth that occurred in Iceland as the last vestiges of Danish mercantilist practices were winding down just over a century ago. The text is written in Icelandic, so readership has hitherto been limited to those literate in that language. Even so, copies of the book reside in a surprisingly long list of North American university libraries, which testifies to its importance as a source document.


It was my unique honor to translate this work into English, primarily for the edification and enjoyment of my family. Although I am not a direct descendent of Rist, he was my

grandmother’s first cousin; this book is, therefore, an important resource for understanding the heritage shared by both our families. The agreement with the owners of the original text’s copyright precludes my making my translation widely available, but if you have ties to the Rist family, you might qualify to receive a copy. The third and final printing of my translation having recently been completed, a limited number of copies is currently available.


Plaque of Lárus Rist in Iceland


I currently work as a volunteer at Icelandic Roots, supporting their translation group. If you have materials that require translation from Icelandic to English (or vice versa) inquire on our website.


Inquiries regarding my translation of "Synda eða sökkva" may be sent to support@icelandicroots.com with "Attention Larry" in the subject line.