Arion Lyre

84. The Nachman Stories, by Leonard Michaels

The Nachman Stories by Leonard Michaels, with essays by Robert Hass and Morton Paley, Robert Pinsky, and Diana Ketcham, and with nine photographs of the author, April 2009.

Nachman Stories coverThe Nachman Stories brings together for the first time in a single volume Leonard Michaels’ stories focused on the Los Angeles mathematician Raphael Nachman as their hero. Written at the end of the author’s life, between 1997 and 2003, the Nachman series is praised as the capstone to the career of a master of the American short story. As Robert Pinsky writes in his preface, it is “the final, remarkable accomplishment of a great stylist turning his gift in a new direction”.

The poet Robert Hass calls Michaels: “one of the most widely admired prose stylists of his generation, with an uncanny ear for sentence rhythm. A fabulist and miniaturist, admirer of Franz Kafka and Isaac Babel, he was often associated during his lifetime with the American Jewish writers Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth.”

The Arion Press is proud to present the Nachman stories as their author had intended: as a book. Katharine Michaels recalls: “One day in November 1997, Lenny sat down and, in just seven hours, wrote a story about a mathematician named Nachman. Uncharacteristically, he made very few changes. He was completing a volume of Nachman stories when he died in 2003.”

In the Arion edition, eight stories can be read in sequence as a novella illuminating the moral life of Raphael Nachman. Beginning with the first story Michaels wrote, “Nachman”, they follow the character from the semi-mythic Cracow of his grandparents to the mundane Los Angeles of his own life as a bachelor academic. A progression of comic misadventures and ethical triumphs, the stories mark their hero’s passage from anxious youth to less anxious middle age, when as a successful mathematician, he is still confounded by the everyday Los Angeles of airports, hair salons, and pretentious restaurants. One story,“Nachman and Meg”, is published for the first time here. The others were issued over a period of six years in The New Yorker, Partisan Review, and The Threepenny Review, with the final story, “Cryptology”, appearing in The New Yorker a few weeks after Leonard Michaels died of cancer at age seventy.

Michaels had riveted the literary establishment when he began publishing, in his thirties, in literary magazines and in Playboy, what Hass calls “his brief, elegant, phantasmal stories about New York”. His first collection, Going Places, of 1969, inspired Susan Sontag to hail him as “the most impressive new American writer to appear in years”. In the decades to follow, Michaels wrote a novel, essays, and what he termed “auto-biographical fiction”. He returned to the short story in his sixties with the series about Nachman, who shares aspects of his creator’s biography. In these stories, many believe, Michaels had returned to his true calling, albeit from a less cynical perspective and in the setting of his adopted California. In the words of Robert Hass, “he was writing at the top of his form”.

The Arion Press edition is introduced with critical essays by Robert Pinsky and Diana Ketcham and a biographical essay by Robert Hass and Morton Paley, Michaels’s colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley. It was edited with the cooperation of Katharine Ogden Michaels, who, in some cases, has provided versions as they were revised by the author after their magazine publication. Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, publishers of The Collected Stories (2007), has graciously cooperated in the reprinting of stories in that volume.

More about the stories and the author.


The book contains nine photographic portraits of the author that appear as the frontispiece facing the title page and on the half-title pages preceding each of the eight stories. The photographs of Leonard Michaels were taken over the course of his career as a writer, between 1962 and 1995, and are arranged in chrono-logical order, with the exception of the frontispiece, which is from 1978. Most are publicity shots; some were taken by friends and family. All are from the collection of the Michaels family.

Nachman Stories title page


The book is large octavo in format, page size 9-7/8 by 6-1/2 inches, and consists of 164 pages. The type is Janson, composed and cast in Monotype, 12 point with 11 point capitals, with Caslon figures, for the text, and Univers for display. The paper is grey Basingwerk. The printing of the text is by letterpress. The photographs are printed by offset photo-lithography on white dull-coat stock, trimmed to bleed, and are tipped onto the pages by hand. The binding is full blue cloth, Iris Wisteria, with a titling band of Japanese Yatsuo handmade mustard-colored paper running diagonally across the cover. The endpapers are grey mouldmade Italian Tiziano. The book was designed and produced under the direction of Andrew Hoyem.

The edition of the book is limited to 300 numbered copies for sale and 26 lettered copies for complimentary distribution. The price is $450. Available.

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Edition: The format is 9-7/8 by 6-1/2 inches, 164 pages. Nine photographs are tipped onto the pages. The binding is full blue cloth, with a titling band of Japanese handmade paper diagonally across the cover. The edition is limited to 300 numbered copies for sale. Price: $450.

Order securely online now:

Reserve now and pay offline:

Reserve your copy

More about the stories and the author.