(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main action in the “The Twenty-seventh Man” occurs within the Russian village of X and its prison. Orders are issued from Joseph Stalin’s country house to arrest twenty-seven writers and take them to the prison on the same day so that they can all be killed by the same burst of gunfire. Pairs of agents are to carry out the arrests simultaneously and in secrecy. Four arrests are explained in detail.

The first capture is of Vasily Korinsky, whose wife causes problems by hitting one of the arresting officers in the head. Korinsky, who would have gone along peacefully, is knocked unconscious and dragged away. The second arrest is of Moishe Bretzky, who is found, passed out, in a whorehouse. Twelve companions, dressed in the frilly boudoir garments of the brothel, help carry Bretzky to the waiting car.

The third arrest is of an eighty-one-year-old writer, Y. Zunser, whose real name is Melman. One arresting agent has had a Jewish literature instructor, so he makes an effort to be respectful. The agents are especially worried about killing him during the arrest, something they had been warned against.

The fourth arrest is of the twenty-seventh man, Pinchas Pelovits, who lives near the prison. Pinchas at first refuses to go with the agents but decides his crime must have been to have read and enjoyed Zunser’s book. When Pinchas tries to bring along his notebooks, he is beaten unconscious and rolled, shoeless, into a blanket....

(The entire section is 600 words.)