Stalin does not respect you, Joe Poet. He is willing to torture and kill you. You’re Jewish.

Another piece from The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story, Nathan Englander‘s “The Twenty-Seventh Man” (1998) owes its existence to Stalin’s anti-Semitic oppression in the Soviet Union. Four Russian literary artists, among twenty-three others, are arrested and destined to die, because they are Jews. “We’ve lost our universe, this is true,” one of them says. A young man named Pinchas represents the artist who is snuffed out by a sinister world before he is known and loved.

A terrific story, this. Englander writes wryly and knowingly. His dialogue is delicious. John Freeman opines that this is a tale about the madness of “a state at war with truth.”