In the Distance

A novel by Hernan Diaz

October 3, 2017 • 5.5 x 8.25 • 272 pages • 978-1-56689-488-3

A young Swedish boy, separated from his brother, becomes a man; the man, despite himself, becomes a legend and outlaw.

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. Diaz 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.

About the Author

Hernan Diaz is the author of Borges, Between History and Eternity (Bloomsbury 2012), managing editor of RHM, and associate director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University. He lives in New York.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


Winner of the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
Winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

Winner of the Institute for Immigration Research New American Voices Award
Winner of a 2019 Whiting Award
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
Finalist for the 2018 Clark Fiction Prize
Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of 2017
Feminist Press, “FP Staff Picks: the Best Books of 2017”
Brazos Bookstore, “Best-Selling Fiction of 2017”
East Bay Booksellers, “Bookseller Favorites of 2017”

“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.” —Pulitzer Prizes

“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.” —New York Times

“Diaz cleverly updates an old-fashioned yarn, and his novel is rife with exquisite moments.” —Publishers Weekly, boxed and starred review

“As Diaz, 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

“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 Selection Committee

“Stitched through with humor, this often-unpredictable novel will keep readers running along with every step of Håkan’s odd escapades.” —Booklist

“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

“Perhaps most striking is Diaz’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.” —Paris Review Daily

“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. . . . Resonant historical fiction with a contemporary feel.” —Library Journal, starred review

“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.” Arkansas International

“This suspenseful novel is a potent depiction of loneliness, a memorable immigration narrative, and a canny reinvention of the old-school western.” Publishers Weekly

“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

“. . . 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 Times

“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.” —Literary Hub

“An infectious story of one man’s quest for solitude and understanding, In the Distance is a noteworthy, original debut.” —The Gazette

“Here is a Western that expands the possibilities of the genre, and hints to a brighter, more nuanced, more intellectually-stirring future.” —Publishers Weekly

“[In the Distance] is 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

“Diaz is a magician. We await more magic.” —Epiphany

“Håkan by Diaz predates nationalities: he is profoundly human.” —Otra Parte

In the Distance draws a tall silhouette in the horizon fleeing the plenty for the void. A Sisyphus worn out by the western sun.” —Le Monde

“It is poetic, nearly unreal and especially thrilling like the picaresque stories of the 18th century. We think of Fénelon’s Aventures de Télémaque. The novel of a great writer.” —A Nous Paris!

“A meditation on life, nature, the cycles that move as well as root us.” —The Concourse

“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.” —Publishers Weekly

“Hernan Diaz’s strange, absorbing novel In the Distance—the story of Håkan Söderström, a Swedish immigrant whose journey in the American West is fraught with confusion, loss, loneliness and seclusion—upends the romance and mythology of America’s Western experience and rugged individualism.” —Star Tribune

“Like Håkan’s America, so too does In the Distance firmly exist in the ‘realm of the possible.’ Yet Díaz’s great gift lies in reconfiguring the possible, the expected, the taken-for-granted into something extraordinary.” Paste

“It’s a gorgeous journey, a profound homage to America’s natural beauty.” CounterPunch

In the Distance is a methodical, haunting glance at the true dark heart of the antebellum American West.” —Latino Book Review

“A Swedish immigrant, the American West, and the powers of fate unite in Hernan Diaz’s stunning novel, In the Distance.” Foreword Reviews

“The prose is surreal and wondrous, especially in its evocation of a landscape that exists more in allegory than historical fact.” Tor.com

“[In the Distance] is a good old-fashioned yearning of the human spirit, and a beautifully commodious meditation on its absolute unknowability.” —Financial Times

“Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance will haunt me forever, a narrative that continues to astound me, and I think a near perfect portrayal of aloneness and solitude and deep longing.” —The Millions

“This is a strange and brilliant version of historical fiction, twisting the genre into something unique.” —Porter Square Books, staff pick

“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’s The Thread

“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

“One of the best books I’ve read all year.” —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, Diaz’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. Hernan Diaz’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 Hernan Diaz 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

“A brilliant reimagining of the Western and adventure genres. More pensive than violent, it presents a unique version of the American landscape.” —Porter Square Books

“Diaz writes the experience of being a stranger as well as anyone (there’s a full page of ‘English’ as Hakan hears it that is perfect), and In the Distance deals beautifully with the endless expanse of a country, and the claustrophobic space of a mind after trauma.” —Remezcla

“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

“Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize 2018, this strange, sinister tale bewitches, making the wild west of America as intense and otherworldly as any dark myth.” —The Irish Times

“Great stories are driven by desire. Håkan Söderström, the remarkable protagonist of Hernan Diaz’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 Diaz’s skilled hands, as American as the landscape. In prose that is as bold as the western sky, Diaz 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.” —Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore

“Diaz’s captivating description, told through the eyes of someone genuinely baffled by much of what he sees, will appeal to the travel writing devotee in most of us and catapult us beyond the banalities of modern life into something rich and strange.” —Ozy

“Diaz 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 Blog

“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

“[In the Distance] 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.” —Necessary Fiction

“The way [In the Distance is] written . . . is so fluid and beautiful—it’s like watching an intellectual Western.” —The Great Discontent