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“A Pilgrimage”: The Story Behind the Story

A Pilgrimage” is one of those NewImagestories that originated by reading off the page. In this instance it was a Mexican short story that I was reading in Spanish. I don’t remember the story details very well, other than being somewhat lost in the Spanish. As a consequence I began imagining the story that became “A Pilgrimage.”

I spent a lot of time on Google Maps working out the route that the characters would take to walk from St Louis to Chicago. Some, but not all, of the landmarks along the way are real. The shrine to St Peregrine in Chicago is also real. I meant to go there to be able to right the scenes set there with greater accuracy but was never able to get away from the family to make the pilgrimage, so to speak.

I received invaluable early feedback from writer friends Katherine Sanger and Kyle Roesler.

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Beautiful Sentences: Uwem Akpan

The light surrounded him like a halo that was too big for a saint and had to be shared by all who were near.

Uwem Akpan, “Say You’re One of Them.” 

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Beautiful Sentences: Victor LaValle

He wasn’t about to be that black guy. (You know, the one who scouts ahead and gets his ass sliced in two. Somewhere near the first ten minutes of the horror movie. Although, to be fair, moviemakers have largely stopped that practice. Now there’s usually one amiable but forgettable white person who dies first, and then they kill off all the nonwhite cast members.)

Victor LaValle, The Devil in Silver.

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Beautiful Sentences: Christopher Isherwood

But we, most of us, lose our sense of proportion in the presence of a nun; and George, thus exposed at short range to this bride of Christ in her uncompromising medieval habit, finds himself becoming flustered, defensive.

Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man.

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Beautiful Sentences: Brenda Peynado

We knew full well that hate did not require an initial offense. Only original sin, only being born.

Brenda Peynado, “The Whitest Girl.”

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Beautiful Sentences: Louis Erdrich

Mine is not a church of the saved, but a church of the lost.

Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God.

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Beautiful Sentences: Pascal Mercier

Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one at most and even then this was merely by chance and without the care it deserves. Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody.

Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon.

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Beautiful Sentences: Siel Ju

We listened to the teenager next door with his basketball in the driveway, two quick bounces each time, followed by a lonely thump off the backboard.

Siel Ju, Cake Time.

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Beautiful Sentences: Pascal Mercier

And the words have to have a rhythm. A rhythm as the words have in Saint John, for example. Only then, only when they are poetry, do they really shed light on things.

Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon.

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Beautiful Sentences: Tadeusz Borowski

Only now do I realize what price was paid for building the ancient civilizations. The Egyptian pyramids, the temples, and Greek statues—what a hideous crime they were! How much blood must have poured on to the Roman roads, the bulwarks, and the city walls. Antiquity—the tremendous concentration camp where the slave was branded on the forehead by his master, and crucified for trying to escape! Antiquity—the conspiracy of free men against slaves!

Tadeusz Borowski, “Auschwitz, Our Home (A Letter)”

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