In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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The fictional novel, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz, Coffee House Press , offers a unique twist on the old western theme.  The tale is presented in a 256 page book detailing perceptions of a legend-making main character who speaks little English in an English-speaking landscape.
           
The main character, Swedish immigrant, Hakan Soderstom, arrives in America with his brother to begin a new more prosperous life than the poor farming existence they lived in rural Sweden.. The brothers are separated enroute and Hakan ends up in California but believes his brother is in New York.  The irony of “go west young man” is reversed as Harkan struggles to go East. 
 
Hakan is an innocent in a strange land. He has weak communication skills because of the language barrier.  The lingual misunderstandings propel the storyline forward and give logical credence to some of Hakan’s wild adventures.
 
Diaz writes with a controlled stream of conscious that makes surreal episodes blend with reality
 
                After some pounding, the dry sinews from the larger animals split
               into fibers that Hakan separated and used as thread to stitch together
              disparate patches of cured leather with his surgical needles.
 
Imagine a man alone in the wilderness, catching, killing, curing and sewing.  It seems only a character larger than life, a legendary man, could accomplish this to survive. Yet, the image of using the fibers as thread gives such a logical spin to the process that the reader is pulled right into the scene and believes the actions of this character.
 
The story uses the universal theme of one lonely man’s survival in a wicked and dangerous world as he struggles in his journey to find the brother he loves. It is an epic journey in which Diaz presents his main character as a simple man whose adventures lead those around him to perceive him as so extraordinary, he becomes mythical. 
 
The novel is constructed in 24 chapters numerically named.  It progresses forward through telling incidents as Hakan matures from a naïve boy to an experienced man who survives his lack of money and extreme loneliness.  Hakan never loses sight of his desire to find his brother as his journey leads him through life’s many obstacles including love, honor, greed and betrayal
 
This is a good read of a nongenre “nonwestern” western exploring a foreigner’s complicated struggles in a foreign land while searching for a way to reach home.
 
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.
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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