The Paris Review

Feeling Foreign: An Interview with Hernan Diaz

Photo: Jason Fulford

In Hernan Diaz’s first novel, In the Distance, Håkan Söderström, a Swedish immigrant, traverses the western expanse of nineteenth-century America on his way to New York to find his brother. Along the way, he gains the reputation of a terror and a legend, much to his bewilderment. Håkan is an atypical Western protagonist. He is a foreigner inhabiting a space typically reserved for American desperados, and, though a figure of physical prowess, he is emotionally and psychologically unsuited for life in the American territory—he kills, but he is haunted by it, “overwhelmed by an active, all-consuming hollowness … a stillness that had nothing to do with peace.”

I met with Diaz last month at a café in Chelsea. He described the café, with its kitschy diner-like booths and railway-themed decor, as “irresistibly hideous”—a characterization perhaps apt for his protagonist, a figure of endless intrigue whose form provokes others “discovering what a man could be.” Diaz was candid, eager to discuss his work (and share his cheesecake). We talked about the usefulness of considering his book in light of the Western tradition and the

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