Hernán Díaz’s novel had been chosen by media such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as one of the 2022 novels.
Hernán Díaz (1973) likes to disappear into his literature. He chooses to erase himself, to voluntarily eliminate all traces of the person who is the author of those fictional writings. In an ironic key -a register that he handles naturally- he recently pointed out that what interests him is “disappearing from the novel in the most personal way possible”, a challenging paradox. This gentleman born in Buenos Aires, who grew up in Stockholm and who chose to live in New York, a disciplined writer who seeks to captivate readers through elaborate and magnetic novels, has just been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It is an award for an author and also an award for a figure, that of the writer-reader.
About this erasure, among other things, he spoke a few days ago at the Book Fair during the presentation of Fortuna, the novel that has just been consecrated. Díaz -who studied and taught Literature, is a PhD in Philosophy and editor of a prestigious academic journal on literature, as well as the author of an essay on Borges-, is interested in both the stories he tells and the procedures he uses to do so; both the stories and the -invisible- seams of those stories.
It may interest you: The Argentine writer Hernán Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
That same day that he spoke at the Fair, he made a big bet when he said that, in terms of technical perfection, his model was Fred Astaire: an example of elegance and beauty in which the lack of effort is only apparent. You have to work a lot so that the figures of the dance flow. You have to work hard so that a novel seems to have been born already told, without author’s marks.
Díaz worked five years on his second and award-winning novel “Fortuna”, which was published by Anagrama in Spanish.
Hernán Díaz opts for pure fiction in times of the literature of the self or selfie literature, as he calls it. His first novel, In the Distance, was published in English in 2017 by a small publisher and had a very good critical and reading reception, to the point that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the same award that ends to get. Some time later it was translated into Spanish and repeated the circuit: surprise, reader enthusiasm, word of mouth recommendation.
In the distance is an adventure novel, an initiation novel, a western, a philosophical novel and at the same time that it unfolds them, it breaks with the schemes of all genres. The book tells the story of the teenager Håkan Söderström, who in the middle of the 19th century leaves a town in Sweden with his older brother Linus for the prosperous New York, gets lost on the way and thus begins the long journey of his life and, also, the construction of a legend.
“In the distance”, by Hernán Díaz, was published in Spanish by Impedimenta.
Alone, penniless and without knowledge of English, Håkan -a kind of human giant- ends up disembarking in San Francisco and then embarks on a journey to the Eastern United States, in search of his brother. The novel is precisely that journey in the opposite direction of history (everyone travels to the West, it is the time of the Gold Rush), with chapters that function as different seasons, new learning and contacts with people of different origins.
Díaz worked for five years on Fortuna, his second and award-winning novel. Talking about it implies the permanent risk of spoilers and, although this may seem like an argument to hide laziness, I assure you that I would love to tell you in detail what the story is about and thus enjoy it again, but it is not possible without losing in the I walk the greatest discoveries of this work that is fundamentally a captivating and unforgettable literary game.
Cover of the award-winning novel in its English version.
As you probably already know, Fortuna (Trust, in English) has money at the center of its argument, but it also has everything fictional about money and what money can do with people and human ties. Although the narrative goes back and forward in time, the central story is set in the United States of the 1920s and delves into behind the scenes of voracious capitalism.
There is a tycoon (Andrew Bevel) who inherited his fortune and privileges and a wife (Mildred) who grew up among the rich even though her aristocratic parents have more agendas and contacts than assets. The first thing the reader finds when opening the novel is an index indicating that what is coming is made up of four books, documents or versions of a story, all written by different authors: Harold Vanner, Andrew Bevel, Ida Partenza and Mildred Bevel.
It may interest you: Hernán Díaz and “In the Distance”: a journey to the heart of loneliness and adventure in the United States of the 19th century
The first book reproduces a novel (“Obligations”) that is the trigger for all the rest since we will later learn that it is a bestseller that outrages the tycoon for the way he tells his story and that of his wife (with other names but with enough detail for everyone to recognize) and that opens the door to the three remaining books. The social stain is usually difficult to erase and Bevel’s habitual phrase that his personal interests have always coincided with the search for the welfare of the nation no longer manages to convince as before. Trust has been lost.
Hernán Díaz was born in Argentina, grew up in Stockholm and long ago chose to live in the United States.
There is a novel within the novel and different genres in the other documents: unfinished biography, memoire, intimate diary. The magnate and his wife are protagonists in all the writings; They are joined by other characters who come along with themes such as anarchism, the workers’ struggle, the place of women in social life and at work, patronage, technological changes and the limits between truth and fiction.
I said that I don’t want to tell you too much so as not to lessen the impact and surprise of this story that advances in the midst of greed, madness and betrayal. I wrote before that the Pulitzer awarded a book but also an author who is a model of a figure, that of the writer-reader. Díaz is – what Argentine author is not in his own way, we could say – a Borgean writer, so that taking the idea that Borges develops in “Kafka and his precursors”, reading his novels is also reading everything he read at over time and especially for each of the fictions.
In times of the literature of the self, Díaz opts for pure fiction.
Thus, if in Far Away it was possible to read Melville, Poe, Henry James, Jack London, Thoreau, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Argentine tradition of desert literature, with Mansilla at the forefront, in Fortuna he appears again in the firmament of Henry James readings, this time accompanied by Edith Wharton (basically in the first part of the novel) and the processing of the biographies (hagiographies, actually) of the great names of North American finance, but also the display of forms linked to Virginia Woolf’s literature, as well as multiple historical documents and readings on economics, from Marx to liberalism.
All of this is read but there is not an author on the pages of these novels who waves the flags of influences because in the same way that, he assures, he seeks to erase his tracks, he also does it with his readings: he uses them, processes them, stylizes them. , resignifies them. He finds in them the ways to work his own stories and ideas because nobody starts from scratch. In a certain sense, he is reminiscent of Umberto Eco, when he traded the essay for the novel and surprised the world with The Name of the Rose. There, too, a qualified reader was able to take his readings to new plots with quality and be successful in his proposal.
A few days ago, the author of Fortuna presented his novel at the Book Fair with Graciela Speranza. (Gustavo Gavotti)
There are two interesting technical challenges that Díaz faced in each of his novels. In Far Away, there is a narrator who is very attached to the protagonist, someone who travels through a country that is not his own and who meets people who speak a language that he does not understand, which is why he does not fully understand either. everything that is happening. It was an effect sought by the author and the way in which one, as a reader, finds out about some things but not others is very successful in narrative terms. And, in any case, he tries to guess the gestures, in the same way that the character does.
It may interest you: Who is the Argentine writer who only had two novels written in English to establish himself in New York
In Fortuna, Díaz faced another problem and it was that of narrating the same story in different genres with four different voices. In several interviews, he said that when he realized that these narrators could sound similar, he literally put together style manuals for each section and for each author to define, for example, how each of those voices would use punctuation and to choose syntax. and singular lexicons for each of them.
Hernán Díaz spoke about his novel at the Malba with Malena Rey. (Alexander Guyot)
Behind Fortuna there is a craftsman of storytelling and language. As behind the translations of his novels there is an author who, although he chooses to write in English, was born in Argentine Castilian and seeks to “uncast” them in the reviews so that there are no annoying rubbish that interrupt the reading.
Díaz is not an academic applying jargon to his fiction, but a passionate reader who writes with other readers in mind, always in search of that wonderful ambition: to achieve an elegant and light writing à la Fred Astaire.
*Here you can listen to an interview with Hernán Díaz about “Fortuna”.
Hernán Díaz and “Far Away”: a journey to the heart of loneliness and adventure in the United States of the 19th centuryHow is “Fortuna”, the book by the Argentine writer Hernán Díaz that Obama praises and Kate Winslet stars in its adaptation to a miniseriesThe great fiction of capitalism and its nucleus of impunity