SI Vault
Vasily Aksyonov
April 23, 1973
The author is considered one of the finest and most subtle short-story writers to emerge during the thaw in Soviet literature that prevailed for roughly a decade following the death of Stalin in 1953. His back-ground, typical of his generation of Soviet intellectuals, bears heavily upon the content of his work. His parents were arrested during the devastating purges of the mid-1930s, and at the age of four he was placed in one of the notorious Soviet "Homes for Children of the Enemies of the People." His mother, the Jewish writer Eugenia Ginzburg, survived 18 years of prison, concentration camp and exile to write a chilling memoir, "Journey info the Whirlwind," which, like much of her sons current work, has been banned in the Soviet Union. Chess recently has been classified as a sport, but in this surrealistic story, now translated into English, Aksyonov uses a chess game to mirror a whole lifetime and its grim associations. His contest has no winner.
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April 23, 1973

The Grand Master

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"You're a grand master, but I'm forking your queen and your rook," G.O. said, raising his hand. His perfidious knight hung over the board.

A fork in the behind! the Grand Master thought. Some fork! His grandfather had his own personal fork and never allowed anyone else to use it. It was his private property: private fork, spoon, knife, private plate and a portable spittoon. There was also that heavy winter coat with the special kind of fur lining. The coat hung by the door but Grandpa never went out. Grandpa and Grandma were forked. Too bad to lose the old folks.

While the knight was hanging over the chessboard, the Grand Master again saw the lightninglike trails that, by expedient sacrifices, would open up his opponent's strongholds to his attack and lead to mate. But, alas, the piece in G.O.'s hand, the horse's head with the dirty bit of purple felt coming unstuck from its base, was so real that the Grand Master shrugged.

"So you're sacrificing your rook?" G.O. asked.

"What can I do?"

"You're sacrificing the rook to mount an attack, aren't you? Have I guessed right?" G.O. said, still hesitating to place his knight on the fateful square.

"I'm simply moving my queen out of the way to save it," the Grand Master mumbled.

"Are you setting a trap for me?" G.O. asked.

"Oh, no, not at all. You're simply a strong player."

G.O. then cashed in on his precious fork. The Grand Master hid his queen in a little corner behind a veranda, the half-collapsed veranda of a stone house, with carved decaying pillars. In that corner, in the fall, it smelt of fusty maple leaves. You could squat there comfortably and wait it out. It was good there, because at least your pride couldn't be hurt. Then he rose for a moment from behind the veranda and saw G.O. removing his rook.

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