Iurii Trifonov (1925–1981) was a successful Soviet writer and sports journalist. He did not belong to samizdat print culture. But like other officially published Soviet literature, his works enacted an Aesopian game of hide-and-seek with the censor and the reader, whereby meaning was concealed throughout the text and marked by subtle hints. In this essay, I explore the implications of game playing as elaborated in Trifonov's most subversive, though officially published and uncensored, text, the novella House on the Embankment (Dom na Naberezhnoi, 1976). In analyzing Trifonov's novella, I examine different forms of “actual” play among author, censor, and reader, on the one hand, and rhetorical game playing in the narrative, on the other. More specifically, the essay analyzes children's games in the text to suggest that games become an Aesopian mechanism for addressing the Stalinist past and a metaphor for Aesopian language itself. The essay also suggests that game playing as an extratextual practice and rhetorical mode can be seen as bridging the gap between samizdat (underground publishing enterprises) and Gosizdat (the state publishing house).

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