Archive | 10:49 AM

Book Club Reflection: In the Distance by Hernán Díaz

21 Sep

It is rare for me to not finish a book before our book club meets, but that’s what happened this past week. I couldn’t manage to finish In the Distance by Hernán Díaz in time for our meeting. I had less than two hours left of the audio when we met.

Our leader had some great information about Díaz. The book was sent int during an open call for manuscripts and is his first novel, which he’d been working on for years. Díaz lived in first Sweeden and then Argentina before moving to New York. He didn’t travel to the locations he mentioned to research the novel. It’s a bit of a travel novel and a Western. The story shows the chaos of the Wild West more than the heroic side that’s often portrayed in Westerns. The corrupt Shariff is an example of the American Dream of the West gone sour. It was pointed out that most Westerns set in the late 1800s like this one were not written during that time period. Most Westerns are about an idealized and mythological West that’s common in literature but isn’t necessarily true of history. (From this article from The Nation)

There were a few of us who listened to the audiobook for this one and we found that those of us who listened disliked the book more than those who read it. We didn’t feel the narrator’s voice matched the story. Those who read the book noticed something that passed me by. There was almost no dialogue in the first half of the books because Håkan didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what was being said. He’s a foreigner in the West, even though everyone there is not from the area. He’s the most foreign foreigner in the land.

During the book, Håkan has a lot of different companions and one reader counted nine in total. I wasn’t a fan of this episodic storytelling and a few of my fellow readers felt the same. We were disappointed when characters like the woman with black gums never showed up again. It made us question the purpose of certain parts of the book. Lorimer was one character we tended to like. Many of us felt he was comparable to Darwin.

Many of us were frustrated that Håkan never found his brother, but many people suspected it. Marking it to New York wasn’t part of his story. When he decided to return to Sweden, most weren’t surprised. A reader suggested that he’d lost touch with reality a bit in thinking he could walk across Russia, but others thought he’d honed his skills enough to be able to do it. One reader was very familiar with Sweedish immigration and told us that many Swedes who left for the US went back to Sweeden so it’s likely Lionus may have done that and they’d be reunited at home. So maybe there is a happy ending?

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