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In the Distance

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,927 ratings  ·  475 reviews
A young Swedish boy finds himself in 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 conven ...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)

Community Reviews

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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,927 ratings  ·  475 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 edu ...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 virtue,
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 hubb
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 fi
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. Than ...more
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: coverlove, usa
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 tarpa
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 muc ...more
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.
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
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. Some
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 A ...more
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Sara Mazzoni
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
L’ho scoperto per caso andando a controllare chi era finalista al Pulitzer 2018. Salta fuori questo romanzo, appena pubblicato in italiano da Neri Pozza. A lettura conclusa, trovo difficile che il libro vincitore del premio, Less di Andrew Sean Greer, possa essere migliore (ma sono sempre pronta a ricredermi dopo avere letto anche quello).

Sarà una questione di gusti e inclinazioni personali; amo le storie d’avventura nella natura selvaggia, quelle in cui un personaggio sopravvive in condizioni
James Murphy
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The hype surrounding this novel is that it's a historical novel of America's west in which the story's main movement is from west to east against the tide of immigration. The idea lets Diaz say some interesting things about the west and allows him the opportunity to have his character exposed to most of the things with which we associate the old west.

That character is Hakan. He's Swedish and on his way to New York from Gothenburg with his brother. They're separated along the way and Hakan finds
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hernán Diaz's In the Distance begins as a pilgrimage of two brothers seeking relief by journeying to America from rural poverty in Sweden and transforms into a pilgrimage of Håkan Söderström’s seeking his older brother. The goal becomes the pilgrimage itself. Despite Håkan’s massive size and strength, his pilgrimage, with its many waystations, is dominated by his fear, shame, and guilt. Söderström’s pilgrimage turns mythic when it becomes endless and almost timeless: A year and an instant are eq ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
Emigrating from Sweden to America, Håkan becomes separated from his brother (Linus) when they disembark in Portsmouth England, and he ends up on the Pacific coast, rather than in New York. His life is devoted to aimless wandering, theoretically east towards NY to find his brother. Håkan is a genetic freak, suffering from giantism. Along the way, he meets up with a wide variety of characters, most of whom take shameless advantage of him, and his heroism backfires, making him a notorious outlaw. N ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-fiction
Most western stories are, at their root, stories of loneliness. Of solitary figures coming to grips with an immensity (and usually a violence) so large that it more or less annihilates everything in sight. In the Distance is a debut novel like most westerns, only more so. We follow the American journey of a solitary young Swedish emigrant sometime in the mid 1800's, displaced from family, country, language and culture, and forced from the get-go to fend for himself in an unforgiving land.

Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Nothing left behind in the wilderness could ever be retrieved. Every encounter was final. Nobody came back from beyond the horizon. It was impossible to return to anything or anyone. Whatever was out of sight was forever lost."

This novel is exciting and kept on surprising me the whole way through. It is awesome as an immigrant story and flip on Westerns, but I also read it as an absurdist survival story that confronts what becomes of a person who is confronted with immense cruelty, in a place
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the Distance is an epic tale of one man's journey through the American frontier. It rivals the classic journeys of Ulysees and depicts the unsullied and vast landscapes of the American west. Diaz has created an amazing character in Hakan, who becomes an unwitting legend in his own time. This is a novel that speaks quietly of how some men triumph over nature and how others respect and are in awe of its majesty. An unforgettable story beautifully written. I have only one small problem, which is ...more
Daniel Ford
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Porter Square Book’s Josh Cook has been spending our money all year, and it seems he’s going to keep doing so until the final bell rings in 2017. He recommended this book on Twitter recently, and it arrived at Writer’s Bone HQ soon after. Damn if that man doesn’t have good taste when it comes to words. I want to keep this review brief because I feel like readers should go into the story as fresh as humanly possible, but the opening line (and, really, the opening chapter) is worth double or tripl ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The sort of book you always wanted to get out of Cormac McCarthy.
Roger DeBlanck
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
It is not a stretch of comparison to put Diaz’s extraordinary novel In the Distance alongside McCarthy’s masterpiece Blood Meridian. Diaz’s wizardry of phrasings and his vivid descriptions of the natural landscape are reminiscent of McCarthy. And similar to McCarthy, Diaz spins a mesmerizing tale of adventure and survival. Neither does Diaz shy away from violence, but he has the ability like McCarthy to take harrowing incidents and through the use of spellbinding imagery turn the horrors of brut ...more
Lisa (Liken Books)
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
This is the story of a Swedish immigrant, Hawk, who after separating from his brothers ends up in California instead of New York. It is from this point that we go on a journey with Hawk as he tries to go East to NY to find his brother. What he encounters is an adventure, not like the many adventure stories his brother has told him. This journey is unlike any that I have read or expected.

Diaz does a great job of letting us experience everything that Hawk has from meeting many different people, c
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“A year and an instant are equivalent in a monotonous life.” 10 likes
“pity was insatiable—a false virtue that always craved more suffering to show how limitless and magnificent it could be.” 6 likes
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