It might be a stretch to call In the Distance a road trip book, as there is very little detail about the lands traversed by Håkan Söderström, who set sail as a lad from Sweden with his older brother, bound for New York. Confusion led to separation when Håkan later boarded a ship to San Francisco.
Unable to speak or understand English at first, his one goal is to go to New York and find his brother. Along the way, he meets people who help him as well as those who would prey upon his youth and strength. He doesn’t know where he is, so neither do we. He soaks up knowledge when given the opportunity, learning skills that help him survive in a harsh environment. He learns to mistrust people, and spends years alone as he tries to navigate to New York. Over time, he realizes that he will never find his brother, and decides to return to San Francisco, where he meets another person who helps him on his journey.
Over the years, Håkan becomes a legend for his size and rumored feats. As a man of indeterminate age, he decides to tell his story. Most of what people have heard about him are lies, and he wants them to know the truth. In the Distance tells his truth. The plains, deserts and canyons of the west were not always friendly; the inhabitants were not always honorable, yet Håkan survives in spite of tremendous odds.
The books’s language is often as stark as the landscape Håkan has lived in and with for many years. We see the world through Håkan’s eyes. He didn’t have names for many of the places he traveled through, or for things that he saw (such as railroad ties or telegraph wires). We must use our own imagination to fill in the blanks.
I found the book mesmerizing, hard to put down. The end of the story left me wanting more. As Håkan sets out in a new direction, I want to know if he gets to his desired location.