Book Review — Day of the Oprichnik

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin is a futuristic Russian novel tied to the past. Sorokin is probably better known for his novel The Queue. Sorokin has experienced Soviet Russia and the rise and fall of democracy. The Day of the Oprichnik is a single day in the life of Oprichnik Andrei Danilovich Komiaga in post-Putin Russia — 2028.
The Oprichnik were originally part of Ivan IV’s Russia. Ivan IV (The Terrible*, in the West, but Great or Powerful in Russian — Grozny or thunderstorm) had difficulty with his nobles (boyars) and went about to correct this. His plan involved using commoners to police the nobility. In that society the common people believed the Czar, Ivan IV, to be divinely appointed to rule and his word was God’s word. Using this control he was able to turn the peasant population against the nobility. The large part of this was done by a special police force called the Oprichnina. They were feared by all. Their coat of arms contained a broom and a dog’s head. The broom to sweep away the traces of the criminals and the dog’s head — vicious and loyal. Executions and property confiscations were the norm. Many other nobles were exiled to the East unintentionally, but effectively spreading Russia East into Siberia. The problem this created was that the Oprichnina were only accountable to the Czar. Their new found power lead massive corruption as there were no effective checks on the Oprichnina.

Sorokin takes a reader on a trip to a Russia that returns to the past. Rule by an autocratic Czar and a renewed religious fervor in the country sets the scene. The reader will experience a day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga a rising member of the small Oprichnik unit. In addition to enforcing the royal decrees, there are also the operations of the unit as what seems to be an organized crime family. Extortion, drugs, and luxury are the way of life. The reader will also witness the variable morals where cursing is disallowed but rape is accepted. Day of the Oprichnik is a novel of what happens when a society falls blindly to a ruler or religion. Although a bit hyperbolic at times its message is clear.

* Terrible although a bad translation could be used as how Ivan IV was seen by Russia’s many enemies, but it was meant as a term favor. Many rulers were also described as awful. This was meant, at the time, as being awe-inspiring. Many words take on their own meaning with time like “awful” and even Machiavelli(an). Being known as Ivan the Terrible was actually a compliment to the ruler given by the people. Ivan IV was a progressive as rulers came in that time period. Yes, there were atrocities but his in comparison to peers he was not all that “terrible.”


Read for enjoyment and not for review purposes.

Recomended by Ksenia Anske

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