In 1980, Raphael Nachman, a visiting lecturer in mathematics at the university in Cracow, declined the tour of Auschwitz, where his grandparents had died, and asked instead for a tour of the ghetto, where they had lived.
–Leonard Michaels, from “Nachman”
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
Beginning a story can be so hard, and here, in this generous, droll opener, Leonard Michaels gives us so much. He establishes a slight distance between narrator and subject by avoiding internality, and injects deadpan humor through a slight formality of register. Michaels also deploys precise word choice and sentence structure to put in motion the themes of the work. We know that Nachman’s decision to tour the ghetto is peculiar because the sentence’s parallel structure creates an interplay between “declined” (implying an offer) and “asked” (implying a request). This peculiar request of Nachman’s opens up a suitcase full of questions—about life and death, about the holocaust and its legacy, about Nachman himself. Thus, when we first meet Nachman, in the moment he’s expected to choose death, he asks instead, as this clattering carriage of a sentence comes to rest on the clause with fewest syllables, for life.
– Isaac Butler just finished his first book, The Thousand Natural Shocks: A Father, A Family, A Crisis of Faith