A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels east in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing west. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Díaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.
"A gorgeously written novel that charts one man’s growth from boyhood to mythic status as he journeys between continents and the extremes of the human condition."
"Strange and transporting. . . . A weirdness to which a reader willingly submits, because of the vigorous beauty of [Díaz's] words. . . . In the Distance [is] an uncanny achievement: an original Western. . . . An affecting oddness is the great virtue of In the Distance, along with its wrenching evocations of its main character’s loneliness and grief. And its ability to create lustrous mindscapes from wide-open spaces, from voids that are never empty."—The New York Times
“Hernan Diaz explores two kinds of wilderness: the immensely taxing newness of the American West and the still-forming interiority of Håkan, a Swedish immigrant desperate to find a way back home. It’s the second that makes the first feel new. He does this in language that can be plainspoken and wildly, even cosmically, evocative. Håkan’s epic journey reminds us how the self is often hammered into existence by pain and longing. In the end the reader understands the country’s twin potential for horror and hope.”—Whiting Award Citation
"A page-turning adventure story that’s also a profound meditation on solitude and companionship, foreignness and home; a bildungsroman in the grand 19th-century tradition that is also a fierce critique of the romanticised myths of the settlement of the American west. . . . One of the many delights of In the Distance, which was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer prize in the US, is the way the writing oscillates between the austere and the lyrical, the realistic and the dream-like. The result is a singular and deeply affecting portrait of one man’s life in a rapidly changing world, unlike any old-school or revisionist western I’ve experienced."—Carys Davies, The Guardian
"A brilliant debut. . . . This suspenseful novel is a potent depiction of loneliness, a memorable immigration narrative, and a canny reinvention of the old-school western."—Publishers Weekly, Top 10 Books of 2017
“As Díaz, who delights in playful language, lists, and stream-of-consciousness prose, reconstructs [Hawk’s] adventures, he evokes the multicultural nature of westward expansion, in which immigrants did the bulk of the hard labor and suffered the gravest dangers. . . . An ambitious and thoroughly realized work of revisionist historical fiction.”— Kirkus, "13 Fiction Debuts & Breakthroughs That Live up to the Hype"
“A brilliant and fresh take on the old-school western . . . Díaz cleverly updates an old-fashioned yarn, and his novel is rife with exquisite moments . . . The book contains some of the finest landscape writing around.” —Publishers Weekly, boxed and starred review
"In the Distance did something new, subverting the Western genre and, in so doing, raising important questions about cultural attitudes made evident by assumptions we make about art, particularly toward guns and immigrants. It’s also just a great story."—The Paris Review Staff’s Favorite Books of 2017
"[In the Distance] excels in creating a sense of disorientating foreignness. The result is richly drawn and something like Huckleberry Finn written by Cormac McCarthy: an adventure story as well as a meditation on the meaning of home.—The Sunday Times (London)
“A road movie without roads or plot or dialogue, a coming-of-age novel where loneliness would be the main character. This first novel was a Pulitzer finalist; we understand why.”—Le Figaro (France)
“[An] extraordinary epic tale of a lone man’s journey into the heart of the American frontier. . . . Ultimately it is not [the protagonist’s] quest to be reunited with his brother that impels the novel: it is a good old-fashioned yearning of the human spirit, and a beautifully commodious meditation on its absolute unknowability.”—The Financial Times (London)
"The Western is a decidedly relentless genre that lends itself to great romantic frescoes. Proof of this is this masterful text by Hernan Diaz. With its beautiful writing, it is a harsh reflection, in a wild setting, on solitude and foreignness."—Rolling Stone (France)
"Hernan Diaz's strange, absorbing novel "In the Distance" . . . upends the romance and mythology of America's Western experience and rugged individualism. . . . Diaz's take on the immigrant's experience strikes me as a modern story. It resonated most strongly when my mind went to the millions of people on the move around the world today."—The Star Tribune
“Stitched through with humor, this often-unpredictable novel will keep readers running along with every step of Håkan’s odd escapades.” —Booklist
"[In the Distance] is the story of a young Swedish emigrant to the United States, some time in the middle of the 19th century, which begins as a vividly observed and emotionally nuanced Western, and evolves into a kind of epic of loneliness, as our protagonist wanders farther and farther into the desolate landscapes of the West, and comes dizzyingly close to a psychic point of no return. It's a hero's journey, or possibly a monster's journey—the ending recalls the austere beauty of the last scenes of Frankenstein—and one of the great pleasures of Diaz's singular book is to observe the complicated ways in which the hero and the monster coexist."—BOMB, “Fall Books Preview”
"Be on the lookout for Hernan Diaz’s short story in our pages next year. Until then, thank goodness we have In the Distance (Coffee House), his first novel—a sensitively written, often harrowing odyssey through the desert—which will have made ten more year-end lists since breakfast."—The Kenyon Review, "Holiday Reading Recommendations"
“[In the Distance] is an episodic picaresque adventure, but the transitions are so smooth—and the prose is as unbroken as the horizon—that the past fades away like a dream. It’s as if Herman Melville had navigated the American West, instead of the ocean.”—The Nation
"Hernán Díaz's first novel, dares to revisit, with talent, the founding myths of the United States. . . . The philosophical depth of In the distance is remarkable: through this young Ulysses, at first sight, rustic and uneducated, Hernán Díaz offers a reflection about human nature, its nomadic drive, colonization, immigration, civilization and diversity. Without mentioning specific dates or recognizable figures, In the distance is a historical novel that depicts a crucial era of that still sheds a light on our present."—La Libre (Belgium)
"An immigrant saga with western trappings . . . Díaz may have staked out his desert landscape in the American West, but he isn’t particularly interested in the western per se. 'There are no gunslingers or saloon brawls or stagecoaches being chased in the book,' he says. For him, the desertlike atmosphere of the West carries its own truth about life in America. 'The vaster the desert, the more claustrophobic the confinement,' he says."—Publishers Weekly, "Writers to Watch 2017: Anticipated Debuts"
"Debut author Hernan Diaz depicts a bonafide Western character, an original born in the spirit of expansion and innovation and formed by “the business of being that took up all his time.” Jorge Luis Borges’ influence on Diaz is palpable in his pithy prose; lists convey the sparsity of Håkan’s surroundings and the emptiness that feeds him again and again on his circular path. Diaz is bound to join ranks with Borges on the literary scene with this mythical personality, still at large in our consciousness long after we’ve put down the book."—BookPage
"While set in the American West, this is no conventional Western, as it turns the genre's stereotypes upside down, taking place on a frontier as much mythic as real with a main character traveling east. In this world, American individualism becomes the isolation that is its shadow and the dream of freedom devolves into anarchic violence. And while Håkan longs for community, he finds himself a stranger everywhere. VERDICT: Resonant historical fiction with a contemporary feel."—Library Journal, starred review
"[In the Distance] is well on its way to becoming a classic. For one thing, it was a dark horse Pulitzer Prize finalist. For another, it’s wonderful, an update and subversion of the American Western that sees a young Swedish immigrant encountering good and very very bad in this strange American land, while on the hunt for his brother."—Emily Temple—LitHub: "9 Great American Novels by Authors Born in Other Countries"
"A powerful and singular novel . . . in which Hernan Diaz succeeds in the most difficult thing—creating a character that lingers in your mind. . . . The book, indeed, is anomalous, a meteorite in American literature."—Il Giornale (Italy)
“A beautiful, lyrical and social adventure novel. . . . Hypnotic. . . . Poetic, almost unreal and especially thrilling . . . . The novel of a great writer.”—A Nous Paris
"Stunning . . . The writing style is free of sentimental conclusions and emotional directives, yet Håkan is a perpetually engaging and sympathetic character, so expressively drawn that bouts of loneliness, heartache, and shame vibrate off the page. . . . The American wilderness is Håkan’s only constant companion, and descriptions of salt flats, canyons, and prairies shimmer with an almost hallucinatory power. Fine writing, diverse and well-imagined exploits, and Håkan himself keep the pace flowing, and mounting tension over just how it will all end makes for long reading sessions. As gritty, unromanticized tales of the American West go, In the Distance ranks with classics like Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove."—Foreword Reviews, starred review
"A gritty, dreamy anti-Western Western. This book’s unflinching exposure of our foundational American myths about individualism and violence is so well-executed that it feels nothing short of subversive. Surreal, cerebral, and affecting beyond what I thought possible."—LitHub
"There are plenty of novels that include questing through the American West of the 19th century. I’ve read my share. In the Distance is more whole, more crackling, alive, awake, and speaking than any of those others. The book is new, recently published, but also new in the better and more important sense."—Alex Higley—Publishers Weekly: "10 Essential Books of the American West"
"A a truly haunting narrative. . . . A gorgeous journey, a profound homage to America’s natural beauty. Dip into Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance slowly, read a little bit at a time, enjoy the pure beauty of Hawk’s journey, his sense of being in America’s mythic past."—Counterpunch
"Finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this exquisitely written book is a profound portrayal of loneliness. Diaz reinvents classic western in this atmospheric and haunting ode to the American epic."—Book Riot
"Perhaps most striking is Díaz’s ability to describe the known as unknown, the all too familiar when it is yet unfamiliar. The nature of his protagonist, Håkan Söderström, a lost and wandering Swedish immigrant in the rough, largely uninhabited American territory, allows Diaz to write of what it is like to encounter the foreign or forgotten, such that the reader has a similarly enlightening experience, encountering it anew." —The Paris Review, "Staff Picks"
“What sets [Håkan[ apart from everything else I have read about Swedish-American travelers is his loneliness: he is portrayed as a physical giant of colossal size, and at the same time he is a survivor who is gentle on the nature off which he tries to live and the animals that will help him survive. Already the narrative situation is mythical: Håkan, who can hardly read and write, sits at the campfire and murmuring the story of his life.”—Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden)
“In the tradition of William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison, Díaz explores his characters’ connection to the land and how it claims them in return. . . . Díaz achieves something subtle yet tremendous through In the Distance. He looks back at yesterday to find a hyperbolic image of America’s immigration story today.”—Ploughshares
“Hernan Diaz's novel In the Distance is an isolating story of a man who is separated from his brother as they travel to America, and then his struggle to survive, living off his wits. I checked it out from the library and as soon as I finished it I ran to my local indie bookstore to buy a copy — it’s that good.”—BuzzFeed: “35 Books Librarians Have Recently Loved”
"The novel is shot through with breathtaking imagery and moments of real profundity — an unforgettable incident on a salt lake, a gut-wrenching sequence in a desert cañon, a tense climax in a subterranean enclave — and all of these derive their power from Diaz’s meticulous approach to his protagonist’s point-of-view. If the raw action of In the Distance would make it a compelling Western in any event, it is finally a novel of larger, more sweeping ambitions which it realizes through the sheer force of its style."—Daniel Davis Wood: Necessary Fiction
“[A] West demythified through the journey of a Swedish emigrant. Hernan Diaz makes something new with old clichés, dynamiting John Ford and his pomaded playboys. Even though we of course love these stylish figures, with In the Distance we feel the noise, the smell, the madness and the grime and more.”—Tête de Lecture (France)
"The musical prose of Hernan Diaz’s debut novel In the Distance is as rich and surprising as the quest that the novel’s protagonist, Håkan Söderström, embarks on through the volatile American West. . . . Though it successfully mines many elements of a classic western novel, In the Distance is far more than a western. The meticulous care with which Diaz has clearly crafted each sentence proves he is a highly versatile author, one who is virtually limitless in scope. . . . Ultimately, it is a combination of nuanced characters like Håkan and finely-tuned, lyrical prose that enables Diaz to wildly succeed here in humanizing an often mythologized time in history.—The Arkansas International
"This is the perfect marriage of adventure and literary fiction. The sprawling narrative covers an entire lifetime of traveling and growing, and it always stays fresh and exciting."—PANK: "Best Books of 2017"
“There is a preternatural precision to Hernán Diaz’s every syllable, word, phrase and sentence. . . . What is more, he is a writer capable of conceptual translation. He can turn the banal into the fascinating. He can reduce the complex into the basic. He can even make the gruesome majestic. . . . Since the publication of In The Distance, which is perhaps the best literary western since Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Diaz has published stories in Granta, The Kenyon Review, and The Paris Review—stories that rival some of the best fiction those magazines have published in recent years. . . . Diaz is a magician. We await more magic.”—Ep;phany
"Diaz performs masterstrokes of aesthetic, thematic, and narrative superimposition throughout the novel. In the Distance is distinguished by inversions of traditional history, which color the novel’s terribly gorgeous landscape of 19th century west of the Mississippi. . . . The breadth and deployment of Diaz’s argot is simply astounding. His sentences are crisp, speckled with terms esoteric to an era yet idiomatically clear in their function. And more than any historical reimagining, Håkan’s desperate, often desultory journey blurs the line between purpose and nihilism, hope and despair, swirling together the variegation of human agency and circumstance until we find ourselves staring at the ineffable being that has become of Håkan, a life so saturated with learning, love, and loss that we have no choice but to accept his final measure."—Atticus Review
"[Díaz's] debut novel has a wonderfully old-fashioned feel. It sprawls across early America through the story of a Swedish immigrant who transforms from penniless young man to living legend."—BookPage, "First Fiction: The 15 Most Exciting Debuts of the Fall"
"The opening line (and, really, the opening chapter) is worth double or triple whatever money you spend on this novel. It’s that good."—Writer's Bone
"The prose is surreal and wondrous, especially in its evocation of a landscape that exists more in allegory than historical fact."—Tor.com
"[Hernan Diaz} seems to have found the coveted martingale for 'the great American novel'"—Transfuge (France)
"A surprising anti-Western Western interrogating the archetype of rugged anti-hero, and the way we tell stories about America. Diaz constructs a piercing and highly original depiction of our history's weird resonances."—MPR News
“What a strange, meandering story this is. Call it a western, an anti-western, whatever you want: Hernan Diaz’s novel, with its vivid setting and characters, its upending of the simple mythology of westward expansion, will haunt you long after reading it. This belongs on the shelf with Blood Meridian and Oakley Hall’s Warlock and is similarly destined to become a classic.”—Molly Parent & Stephen Sparks, LitHub
"Diaz wonderfully distills the sweeping clichés of the era and region into the heart and soul of a single man, showing the violence and chaos of the imperialist age."—Gabriel Boudali, 3:AM Magazine
"One is stunned by the hallucinatory dimension brilliantly maintained and struck by this unprecedented vision of the founding myths of America (individualism, violence, transcendence). With In the Distance, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Hernan Diaz revisits the Western and the bildungsroman, offering us a subjugating first novel."—Lire (France)
“This is one of those novels that grips you from the first page and pulls you into a new world. And the language is so fresh, so incisive. Diaz has reinvented the traditional American migration story. . . . The author’s imagination shreds the old clichés and makes the reader see afresh the strangeness of a foreign land, the brutal loneliness of being an immigrant, and the wonders and odd people that give the phrase ‘Wild West’ new meaning.”—Debra Dean (Creative Loafing)
"A finalist for the Pulitzer in 2018, this sibling story ditches realism for new frontiers on the intersection of myth and magic. Among other contemporary resonances, the novel offers insights into the experience of finding oneself radically outside the mainstream. . . . Here is a Western that expands the possibilities of the genre, and hints to a brighter, more nuanced, more intellectually-stirring future."—John Larison—Publishers Weekly: "The History and Future of the Western in 10 Books"
"A coming of age story, brutal and sad, set in a familiar yet simultaneously strange historical past: Håkan offers the reader his eyes, when walking, isolated, amazed at everything, observing the landscapes, people and animals, studying the cycles of nature. . . . The outstanding character of Håkan lingers after reading, an endearing and moving anti-hero."—Parutions.com (France)
“Diaz writes with extreme care the story of a brutal life spent dissolving into nature’s grandeur and witnessing the horror and cruelty of a United States hell-bent on getting west.”—Deadspin: “The Best Things We Read In 2018”
"An infectious story of one man’s quest for solitude and understanding, In the Distance is a noteworthy, original debut."—The Gazette
“Diaz paints a sensitive story about the loneliness of an immigrant who has lost everything against the background of 19th-century migration flows to America. Actually in times of Mexican border walls, but for revolutionary writing you can’t beat this.”—Humo (Belgium)
“Ok, I’m pretty sure starting off with a book written about a dude centered on a dude searching for a dude is violating the secret code of list making for bad ass feminists, but hear me out. . . . This book gives two craps about the romanticized notions of settler life in the West, or the reductive immigration narrative, or frankly anything having do with accurate historic representation of the United States. Instead, the country serves as a backdrop for a brutal meditation on loneliness, the fleeting nature of home and the emotional austerity of having to make your way on your own.”—Heauxs: “What Bad Ass Feminists Read This Year”
"Loaded with adventures, while being a book of mineral purity"—Grazia (France)
“Hernan Diaz's In The Distance is exquisite: assured, moving, and masterful, as profound and precise an evocation of loneliness as any book I've ever read.”—Lauren Groff
“One of the best books I’ve read all year. The story and the narrative voice are completely captivating. . . . Absolutely unforgettable.”—Roxane Gay
“In the Distance is a singular and haunting novel, an epic journey into the wilderness of nineteenth-century America and into the depths of solitude. In its majestic evocation of landscapes it bears a resemblance to Blood Meridian, but in the meditative precision of its language and the moral compass that spins at its heart, Díaz’s novel is a creature all its own, and it’s one of the very few works of fiction that transport you, emotionally and imaginatively, to an utterly new place. It’s a breathtaking trip.” —Paul La Farge
“If I could hand you this book I would. Read this. Hernán Díaz’s In the Distance is a portrait of this country as both a dreamscape and a living nightmare. With echoes of John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing, Andrey Platonov’s Soul, and Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica, this is fiction at its finest—propulsive, unsettling, wildly ambitious, and an unforgettable journey that we will certainly return to in the years to come.” —Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain
“In the Distance by Hernán Díaz sends a shotgun blast through standard received notions of the Old West and who was causing trouble in it. Håkan and his adventures, which are truly extraordinary, not to mention beautifully written, had me from the novel’s first striking chapter to the last.” —Laird Hunt
“Diaz is a total original, someone who writes about the true strangeness and violence of history with his own visionary emotional maturity.”—Joan Silber
“On its surface, In the Distance is a haunting and unique tale of survival—with all the thrilling frustrations of such. Deeper still, it is a story about the devastation wrought by the American Dream—the West as it happened to many, in spite of all they’d hoped.” —Colin Winnette
“Great stories are driven by desire. Håkan Söderström, the remarkable protagonist of Hernán Díaz’s In the Distance, sets off on an unremitting quest to find his brother. As he journeys against the grain of the frontier, Håkan confronts lust, love, honor, greed, and confounding betrayal. He also crafts a solitude that becomes, in Díaz’s skilled hands, as American as the landscape. In prose that is as bold as the western sky, Díaz has written an unforgettable tale of soulfulness and survival.” —Alyson Hagy, author of Boleto
“While In the Distance can be read as a revisionist western—and totally enjoyed and chewed on as such—what makes Díaz’s book truly exceptional is how far beyond a simple genre it goes. A beautiful, thoughtful, and often heartbreaking exploration of lonesomeness, the simple confusion of just living, and the magnificent need for human connection.” —Justin Souther, Malaprop’s Bookstore
"A tremendous debut novel and an epic American story. . . . Just a flat out great book." —Brazos Bookstore, "Buyer’s Corner: Upcoming Fall Favorites!"
“The western as American myth is no new thing, but rarely has it been done so well. A picaresque, a bildungsroman, a parable, and a survivor tale all in one, Hernan Diaz’s story of Håkan, a Swedish immigrant forced to fend for himself in the American West, has an epic feel that belies the slender book’s page count. This is the kind of non-whitewashed American mythology that nurses a kernel of truth: Are we not all immigrants to a world we hoped would be better, encountering on life’s journey few friends and more foes, all of whom influence our understanding of the world and leave lasting impressions even after the memory of their faces fade?” —Christopher Phipps, East Bay Booksellers
"Through the story of Håkan, a Swedish immigrant to the United States in the mid 1800s, Diaz meditates on the nature of impersonal landscape, explores a life of isolation, and tours through some of the characters that carved the identity of the American West. This is a strange and brilliant version of historical fiction, twisting the genre into something unique. For fans of Cormac McCarthy and Eleanor Catton's Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries." —Porter Square Books: Staff Picks
"Part coming-of-age tale, part survivalist story, you have never read a western frontier novel like this. Truly one of the best books of the year."—Third Place Books: Staff Picks
"The best novel I have read in 2017. Why? Because it is replete with qualities that seem increasingly scarce in contemporary culture; namely nuance, subtlety, and reflection. A young Swedish immigrant arrives penniless in antebellum America, his sole purpose to reunite with his brother. From this simple setup, Diaz creates a deep evocation of foreignness, adding a welcome complication to the Western genre. Exploring myth and shame, the episodic journey upends stereotypes while maintaining a gripping narrative. Written in beautifully tactile prose, In The Distance is a startling debut novel. I look forward to reading it again." —Elliott Bay Book Company
"After Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance was named a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and a Pulitzer, I had to check it out. This story is so gorgeous (so original, so immersive, so unforgettable), it aches—in the most wonderful of ways."—Her Bookshop
"This Pulitzer Prize finalist is a wonderful read. Set in the 1850s it follows Håkan from his childhood home in Sweden to the American west on a journey across deserts and mountain ranges that literally takes a lifetime. Gripping and suspenseful, beautifully written and with an eye on our current relationship with our precious world, this is a very special novel."—Owl Bookshop (London): Recommended Reading
"A Pulitzer Prize finalist for fiction, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz (Coffee House) is an extraordinary tale of a young Swedish immigrant traveling in America’s deserts and plains in the mid-19th century, confronting the pervasive violence and lawlessness of the West, as the nation fulfills its Manifest Destiny. —Toby Cox: Staff Picks, Three Lives & Company