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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love, by Lily Hoang

“A man went to knock at the king’s door and said, Give me a boat.”

—from Jose Saramago’s Tale of the Unknown Island

My friend Michael Stewart introduced me to this sentence, this magical little book, back in 2001, and for me, Saramago’s sentence—its possibility and potentiality, my first taste of fairy tale as literature, the simplicity of image, description using only the known while transporting the reader into unknown, the man’s seemingly impossible request, which is ultimately granted—opens into not only a new fantastical world for readers but also decadent, unbounded space for writers to play and explore and steal: the only reason to read.


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Lily Hoang is the author of five books of prose, including Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award) and A Bestiary (winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center's Non-Fiction Book Prize). With Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she edited the anthology The Force of What's Possible: Writers on Accessibility and the Avant-Garde. In Summer 2017, she was Mellon Scholar in Residence at Rhodes University in South Africa. S

4 thoughts on “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love, by Lily Hoang

  1. I love that sentence. It has the kind of simple, yet ethereal, quality found also in Marquez. There’s so much possibility tied up in those words, so much to be done, so much that a writer might imagine when reading the line. I think of the first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wow. The images these guys write are knock-me-in-the-head brilliant. I try and try and try to get each sentence to shine the way this one does and that’s one of the things that keeps me writing, working, sweating.

  2. Oh, I love this little book. I’d found it skimming the stacks at the library and read it standing by the shelf where I found it. Glad to be reminded of it.

  3. It’s hard not to be in love with Saramago’s little book. And, yes, Justin, this is sentence to make a person sweat. I need to go change my shirt now.

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