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In the Distance

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  4,840 ratings  ·  723 reviews
A young Swedish boy finds himself penniless and alone in California. He travels east in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great push to the west. Driven back over and over again on his journey through vast expanses, Håkan meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Díaz defies the ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Coffee House Press (first published October 3rd 2017)
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Breeze This was intentional. I asked the author about it. It's hypnotic. It's Hakan falling away from reality (my explanation) as he descends into his…moreThis was intentional. I asked the author about it. It's hypnotic. It's Hakan falling away from reality (my explanation) as he descends into his solitude.(less)
Adam Along with the symmetric background picture this sends me off in a couple of directions.

Firstly, this invokes the image of a mirage experienced by…more
Along with the symmetric background picture this sends me off in a couple of directions.

Firstly, this invokes the image of a mirage experienced by desert travelers which, also considering the title, conjures up the idea of something ahead of Håkan that he only saw imperfectly but that drew him onward throughout his life <spoiler>- firstly to New York, then finally back to Sweden</spoiler>.

Secondly, the book cover invites you to turn it round, repeatedly, to find it is the same at the top and the bottom; what is near is the same as what is distant. Did Håkan find that if you set off to a distant place, once you arrive, any mystique is removed and you see it just as "another place". <spoiler>Perhaps both New York and ultimately Sweden were appealing for the same reason: they were far away?</spoiler>(less)

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Average rating 4.16  · 
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 ·  4,840 ratings  ·  723 reviews

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Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I’ve read all year. The story, and the narrative voice is completely captivating. At times Diaz gets way too enamored with his talent and goes on and on about some descriptive thing or other but man, the story itself and how it is told is absolutely unforgettable. Imagine the movie The Revenant if it were good.
Lark Benobi
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I resisted everything about this novel in the beginning. I honestly thought it was impossible to believe in. I wrote highly critical marginalia as I read--normally I don't write any marginalia. And then something happened. I gave up, maybe, trying to make the book conform to my expectation. This is the story of a man for whom everything in life goes terribly wrong. He lives out his life in nearly complete isolation from others. He wanders around North America with no sense of where he is, no ...more
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dawn was an intuition, certain yet unseen, and Håkan ran toward it, his eyes fixed on the distant spot that, he was sure, would soon redden, showing him the straight line to his brother. The intense wind on his back was a good omen -- an encouraging hand pushing him forward while also sweeping away his tracks.

I adore historical fiction that features a lone, introspective man traveling the American west, encountering violent situations, meeting oddball characters, bedding women of dubious
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books of the year. It's like Cormac McCarthy, except good. Beautiful and suspenseful and alive, with some of the best landscape writing ever ("Nothing interrupted the mineral silence of the desert. In its complete stillness, the world seemed solid, as if made of one single dry block."). Diaz cleverly uses Hakan's lack of English to heighten the tension of the scenes. There's an amazing drug-induced scene in which Hakan looks at his own brain. And perhaps most memorable is ...more
Peter Boyle
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-reads-2018
What a beautiful, bittersweet story this is. I think it captures the heartache of loneliness better than any novel I've read. And it's a very clever take on the Western, an unflinching exploration of what happens when the American Dream turns sour.

At some point in the nineteenth century, Håkan is a young Swedish man who leaves for New York with his brother Linus in the hope of a better life. He looks up to Linus more than anyone else in the world, his best friend and teacher. However in the
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a little gem of a novel hidden away in the Tournament of Books longlist. It's a Western in as much as it is set in the "West" but to quote the author from this interview

There are many fossilized moments of the Western genre that appear throughout the novel, but I tried to disappoint and go against them. I wanted to write a book that relies on the Western tradition but ultimately subverts it.

I found it such a contrast reading this a few months after tackling Lonesome Dove, a literal and
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There are two things I really love about this book - the opportunity to see humanity through the eyes of a nearly feral man of immense tenderness, strength and conscience, and the wonder of Diaz's writing. This is a debut novel that must have spent many years in gestation. I think that the title and the cover capture its essence beautifully - a kind of endless journey that goes everywhere and nowhere. I don't think anyone could finish this book and not feel the most profound love for Hakan. ...more
"Silence and solitude had clouded his perception of time. A year and an instant are equivalent in a monotonous life."
IN THE DISTANCE by Hernan Diaz

When I finished this book last week, I knew I'd read one of the best novels I've come across in years... Maybe in my entire life. It hasn't left my mind since.

This tale of Håkan, a young Swedish man coming to the western US in the 1850s is a contemplative story of longing, solitude, strength. The story is deeply allegorical, with writing so pure it
Cathrine ☯️
I'm wondering if I would have done better with a hard copy. The narrator was too dramatic with his reading for my tastes. Also this may have been a bit too pulitzer-prize-ish for my current reading interests. It was very big on descriptions over long geographical miles and not drawing me in with an emotional connection. It was very authentic and interesting in many passages but in the end I was too tired to appreciate the journey more and felt very distanced.
Spencer Orey
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-bleak-west
A trip out West for a better life that goes horribly wrong. A tense but delightful entry into literature that's de-romanticizing the US westward expansion and all sorts of its different horrors. Great and memorable episodic encounters with different kinds of horror (scientific, entrepreneurial, religious, racist...) and small bleak little towns.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa, coverlove
Why is the name of the author upside down on the cover there?

Because the image is a reverse copy of itself. Not a shimmering reflection in a still lake, but a deliberate perfect mirror with seam undetectable.
And neither is this a mere whim of the designer: in Håkan's one permanent home, a warren of burrows beneath the surface of the earth and roofed by pine, an attempt he makes to waterproof a roof section with tarpaulin creates a camera obscura.
After securing a few pieces of leather and
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with most others, I'd never heard of this book until it became a Pulitzer finalist - which is what impelled me to read it. While I can easily see why it got nominated (especially since it more than fulfills the mandate about being about America's history), I should have realized from the description it wasn't going to be my kind of book. Much like such lauded award winners as 'Narrow Road to the Deep North' and 'The North Water', this falls into a particular genre that I like to call 'Boy's ...more
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 5-stars
A refreshing approach to western fiction. Diaz, whose prose is one of the many shining aspects of this novel, sets his story of Hakan in the decades before the Civil War. Although there is plenty of violence, Hakan's tale is not centered around gun fights and cattle ranching that often populate novels of this genre. Rather, this is a story about a foreign individual in a foreign land. Hakan is a wanderer, and his experiences are beautiful, sad, lonely, violent and hopeful. "In the Distance" is a ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This turned out to be a great choice for me. The lead character, Håkan, spends his boyhood in rural Sweden in the mid-19th century. He idolises his older brother Linus, who is protective of him. The boys are supposed to catch an emigrant ship travelling to New York, but they get separated and Håkan mistakenly boards a ship for San Francisco. Arriving in California, he decides to cross the continent to find his brother, but events force him to spend years meandering around the western part of ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An unusual and magnificent novel of the American West written by a man born in Latin America, raised in Sweden and now on the faculty at Columbia University. The language is beautiful but fully in the service of the story, which explores themes of solitude, isolation, and one man's experience of being human. And boy, does it deromanticize the Old West! I'm grateful to the Tournament of Books organizers for including this (and Augustown!!!) in the TOB Long List, and trying not to dwell on how ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.25 stars. This is a one-of-a-kind original American Western. No cowboys; fake Indians. While the stage coaches are headed West to the California Gold Rush, our protagonist Håkan is headed East, to New York. Sort of an anti-Western.

He had come from Sweden in 1850 with his older brother, but took the wrong ship from England, bound for California by way of Buenos Aires. Now all he wants to do is cross the Continental U.S. to get to NY where he assumes is his brother. But many years pass, on
4.25ish stars.

As pointed out in the publisher's blurb as well as other reviews, this is a hard book to categorize. It's a Western without cowboys. It's a coming-of-age story without much self-discovery. It's a character study without any internal examination. It's historical fiction but feels like it transcends space and time. Which is kind of the point. One of the book’s biggest themes is foreignness and not belonging, so it makes sense that the book itself doesn't quite belong to any genre
Joy D
Håkan Söderström and his brother Linus set out for America from their native Sweden in the mid-19th century. After losing his brother in the crowded port, Håkan erroneously boards a ship destined for San Francisco rather than New York. Not realizing the distance across the continent, he believes he can reunite with his brother by journeying east, sending him against the wave of pioneers traveling west. He encounters people and circumstances that combine to send him wandering around the desert. ...more
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Somehow this book managed to wrench my heart out and put it back together beautifully!

In an interview with the Paris Review, Diaz was asked what parts of writing this novel he found particularly challenging. He replied, "How do you write about emptiness?" He is referring to the fact that the protagonist is alone for most of the book, and he was trying to convey this desolation and solitude while moving the narrative forward at the same time. He has achieved this spectacularly in my opinion.
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2020
I didn't realize I was picking up a western at first, but before long understood it was more than that. It was also a survival story, almost like Robinson Crusoe scooped off his island and dumped on unforgiving desert and plains.

In many ways, its violence reminded me of a 1972 movie called Jeremiah Johnson, in which Robert Redford plays a civilized man forced by the wilderness and unjust circumstances to become a lonely, persecuted wild man who is both peaceful and forced to kill to live.

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz . . . .a western like no other. . .

The writing is exceptional . . . .it is what I love the best, among multiple bests. The feeling of being The Other, left to navigate society without the resource of confidence, tongue, interpretation of tongue, familiar face, place or caretaker. On top of that bundle of confusion, no context, frame of reference, facts to put your feet on – not your own age, your lost brother or any steady truth on which to hang expectations. The
Book Concierge
Book on CD narrated by Peter Berkrot.

In the mid-19th century a young teen sets out from Sweden with his older brother to America. Bound for New York, they get separated when changing ships, and Håkan, with no English, mistakenly takes a ship bound for San Francisco. Arriving at the height of the gold rush, and not fully understanding the breadth of the continent he must traverse, he is determined to earn his way East to reconnect with his brother Linus. Along the way he encounters a wide variety
Dennis Jacob Rosenfeld
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-loved
So for the first time in a long while a book has me stumped for words. This, my 82nd read in 2018, is a literary masterpiece. This is Hernan Diaz’s first work of fiction which only makes this even more impressive. This is a book about nothing and everything at the same time. A book about the travails of immigration, how countries used to chew people up and spit them out damaged and broken. As they seem to do once again. But most important is the prose. The extraordinary beauty of Diaz’s writing ...more
Ruben Vermeeren
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow, excellent book! I never thought a lonely man travelling through an empty Wild West in the 1850s could be so exciting. The book has lots of pace and many things happening. It is so well-written and with such deep knowledge of that period in history that it never bores. I am very curious to follow Hernan Diaz and see what he comes up with next.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
An imaginative recreation of the frontier Western very much in the vein of Homer with Hakan as Odysseus. It rolls gently along from episode to episode in language that is often perfectly suited to the situation. I am stunned this did not make the Tournament of Books shortlist but hopeful other prize contests will not pass it by.
Literary western of young Scandinavian boy from 1840s to 1879 s and beyond. Who lives a solitary and outlaw life, but not of his own choosing.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Swedish boy is separated from his older brother--and everything about the life he knew--when he boards the wrong ship and ends up in San Francisco. He decides to make his way eastward across the country, where he can reunite with his brother in their intended destination of New York. And so he criss-crosses the American west, and in the process, he finds himself, loses himself, and becomes a legend to others.

I loved the prose, so clear and imaginative. In particular, there were such riches of
Charlie Quimby
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: colorado-west
In the Distance, to be released in October 2017, is an oddly resonant novel that follows an immigrant whose journey across America plays manifest destiny in reverse. It is also a meditation on the urges to connect and survive at their most elemental.

Hakan's journey through American shadows and stereotypes begins when he boards the wrong ship in Sweden. While his brother Linus presumably arrives at their original destination of New York, Hakan lands in San Francisco, effectively short-circuiting
Aug 06, 2019 marked it as dnf
Shelves: fiction
DNF @ 35%

Note to self - always read the blurb and remember that westerns never work for me...
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the Distance will end up being one of my top reads in 2019. I love melancholy fiction and this is one of the best I've read.

The main character, Håkan Söderström, and his brother Linus are each given a ticket from their father to travel from Sweden to New York to start new lives. Unfortunately, Håkan accidentally boards a ship heading to San Francisco. Also unfortunately, this is the almost the least worst thing that happens to Håkan after leaving Sweden. The rest of the novel involves our
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