Violent, often surrealistic Wild West yarn, Cormac McCarthy by way of Gabriel García Márquez.
Håkan Söderström is a force of nature, a wild giant whose name, in the frontier America in which he has landed, is rendered as the Hawk. On the docks back in Gothenburg he was separated from his brother, Linus, and he has sworn to find him in a land so big he can scarcely comprehend it. The Hawk lands in California and ventures eastward only to find himself in all kinds of odd company—crooks, con men, prophets, and the rare honest man—and a tide of history that keeps pushing him back to the west. Along the way, his exploits, literary scholar Diaz (Hispanic Institute/Columbia Univ.; Borges, Between History and Eternity, 2012) writes, are so numerous that he has become a legend in a frontier full of them; for one thing, says an awe-struck traveler, “He was offered his own territory by the Union, like a state, with his own laws and all. Just to keep him away.” The Hawk protests that most of what has been said about him is untrue—but not all of it. As Diaz, who delights in playful language, lists, and stream-of-consciousness prose, reconstructs his adventures, he evokes the multicultural nature of westward expansion, in which immigrants did the bulk of the hard labor and suffered the gravest dangers. One fine set piece is a version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which religious fanatics dressed as Indians attack a pioneer party—save that in Diaz’s version, Håkan tears his way across the enemy force with a righteous fury befitting an avenging angel. “He knew he had killed and maimed several men,” Diaz writes, memorably, “but what remained most vividly in his mind was the feeling of sorrow and senselessness that came with each act: those worth defending were already dead, and each of his killings made his own struggle for self-preservation less justifiable.”
Not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but an ambitious and thoroughly realized work of revisionist historical fiction.