In his first story, "The Twenty-seventh Man," Englander takes on his most selfreflexive theme. The character of Pinchas demonstrates more than the randomness of religious persecution; he embodies the driving passion of writing as well as its power and importance independent of publication. Pinchas is different from his fellow inmates in two ways. First, his voluminous writings are unpublished. The other Jewish authors rounded up by Stalin's cronies published scathing attacks against the Communist regime. They represent half of writing's purpose: to change minds through mass readership.

Pinchas, on the other hand, represents the often unrecognized second half. Unlike the other prisoners who argue bitterly about their respective techniques in an effort to assert their superiority, Pinchas has no interest in either fame or esteem. Though the other authors write for political purposes as well as glory, Pinchas writes only because he loves to: "he had written because it was all that interested him, aside from his walks, and the pictures at which he had peeked. Not since childhood had he skipped a day of writing." The posturing of his fellow prisoners seems shallow in comparison to Pinchas' deep passion for literary production. The value of language, it seems, is not in the reading but in the composition.

Pinchas is one of many characters who give Englander an opportunity to turn his attention to the persistence and strength of Jews. This theme...

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