Found my way downstairs and drank a cup. And looking up, I noticed I was late." . . . I then proceeded to put a severed dog's head on my red, government-issued, Chinese-manufactured Mercedov car and spent the rest of the day killing enemies of the state, assaulting their wives, sending their children to orphanages, ingesting a hallucinogenic fish, before retiring to a plush bath-house for an orgy that gives new meaning to the term `organs of the state'.
And that, in essence, is the day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga set out in Vladimir Sorokin's profane, vulgar, funny, weird, chrome-wheeled fuel injected stepping out over the line "Day of the Oprichnik".
Set in Russia in 2028 this story has a decidedly dystopian bent in a fashion similar to Moscow - 2042. But Sorokin's near-futuristic society represents a sort of mutant amalgamation of 500 years of the worst aspects of Russian and Soviet life. No longer ruled by the Soviets (the "Red Period") or the cowboy capitalist oligarchs (the "White Period") of the immediate post-Soviet era, Russia is once again ruled by an all-powerful Tsar. Russia is one of the two great powers, China being the other. Russian political life is dominated by the Tsar and its soul is governed by a newly ascendant Orthodox Church. Andrei is an Oprichnik, which represents the re-creation of Russia's first "KGB", an organization created by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th-century. The Oprichniki of Ivan's time tortured and killed the Tsar's enemies, real and imagined, dressed in black robes and wandered around carrying the severed head's of dogs in order to sniff out treason. In Sorokin's 2028 version the Oprichniki still dress in black but they mount their dogs' heads on their government issued cars.
At the same time, various aspects of life in 2028 call to mind the era of Stalin and the worst excesses of the Soviet state. Puritanical social structures and the zealous oversight of the arts and literature call to mind the obsessive policing of the arts and literature during the Soviet regime. The movies referenced in the book had all the hallmarks of the worst and most boring sorts of socialist realism, a clerk of some sort fighting a brave battle against enemies of the state for example. Additionally, the perquisites of being active supporters of the regime, the bribes, random sexual encounters, servants and beautiful living quarters all have the hallmarks of the Soviet era. In a puritanical age the Oprichniki enjoy the debauchery they routinely crush during their daily routine. Two scenes, one involving hallucinogenic fish (which I know sounds absurd but works in context) and the other involving a very strange orgy in a bath house takes this debauchery to an extreme.
As noted earlier, Sorokin's language is earthy and the situations he sets out are graphic to say the least. This book is not suitable for people who are easily offended. But I think what Sorokin was doing, and it is something he does in many of his books, is to push a story line to extremes so far that the reader shakes his head and says this is simply unbelievable. It is too much. But that is when the reader (this reader at least) takes the individual parts and notes that this may sound unbelievable taken as a whole but each part represents some aspect of life that actually took place in the past. The real Oprichniki really were tasked with instilling fear in the population. They really did wander the streets of Moscow with dog's heads. The Soviet Writers Guild really did take every step to ensure that Soviet art and literature conformed to acceptable norms. People did disappear, were tortured, killed and sexually abused. People like Beria really did cruise the streets of Moscow in search of young girls so he could abduct them, drug them and abuse them.
Day of the Oprichnik assaults you as you read it. In this case, it was worth being assaulted.