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Archive: Other Books > [Poll Ballot] In the Distance by Hernán Díaz - 5 stars

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Joy D | 3888 comments In the Distance by Hernán Díaz - 5 stars - My Review

PBT Comments: While a few people classified this as "thriller" it's really more of an atypical literary western.

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. In the process, he becomes part of a legend composed of a small amount of truth and a great deal of fabrication.

Håkan initially does not understand English. Ingeniously, the author tells the story is a way that helps the reader identify with Håkan’s experience, with no dialogue introduced until later in the story, after he has gained a rudimentary knowledge of English. He meets a variety of colorful characters along his journey, such as an Irish gold prospector, a woman that keeps him captive, a scientist, a con artist, and a companion that cares for him. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is the writing. The author’s prose is evocative. Díaz conveys a sense of open spaces, silence, emptiness, and loneliness.

“Håkan spent his days staring out at the desert, hoping Linus would feel his gaze through the osseous void. He looked at the plain until it became vertical, a surface to be climbed rather than traversed, and he wondered what he would find on the other side if he made it all the way up and straddled the sepia wall stretching into the drained, dim sky. No matter how hard he scanned the horizon, all he could see were rippling mirages and the phosphorescent specks his exhausted eyes made pop in and out of the emptiness. He pictured himself out there, running, insect-like, in the distance. Even if he ever managed to escape and somehow outdistance his mounted pursuers, how would he make it all by himself through that vast barren expanse? All he knew was that New York lay east and that he, therefore, had to follow the sunrise.”

This book takes place in the American west but avoids the typical western stereotypes. For example, the violence Håkan commits is not glorified or treated frivolously. Instead, it becomes an unsurmountable hurdle. He cannot reconcile his self-image as a decent caring human with someone that could perform such acts, even though he has no choice under the circumstances. He feels tremendous responsibility and becomes unable to cope. His life takes a dramatic turn at this point.

I found this book atmospheric and creative. It follows an unusual story arc, but I found it easy to go with the flow. It is a tribute to the author that he makes an appealing story out of a situation in which the protagonist is alone the majority of the time. This book contains beautiful descriptions of nature, a memorable protagonist, and much food for thought.

message 2: by Susie (new) - added it

Susie | 4488 comments A lovely review Joy.

Booknblues | 6204 comments Great review. You liked this book much more than I did.

Joy D | 3888 comments Thanks, Susie and Booknblues! I admired the author's skill as much as the story itself.

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6012 comments I read it last year for my F2F book club. Made my top-ten list for 2019.

Joy D | 3888 comments Book Concierge wrote: "I read it last year for my F2F book club. Made my top-ten list for 2019."'s
I've only read 5 books so far this year, but it's got the top spot at the moment.

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