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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

on 11 August 2016
The Day of the Oprichnik is a dark journey into the future where Ivan the Terrible's murderous Oprichnicki have been resurrected. There hypocrisy and violence shine a light on our present age.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2018
‘Oprichnik’ was the name of a member of an enforcement group established by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to suppress opposition to the Tsar and terrorise the citizenry. They rode black horses, dressed in black and wore the insignia of a severed dog's head (to sniff out enemies of the Tsar) and a broom (to sweep them away).

Vladimir Sorokin, one of Russia’s foremost satirists, has set his book in 2028 when Russia ‘rose from the Gray Ashes’ to re-established its self-esteem and international power through the period of Holy Revival. It is fenced off ‘from the foreign without and the demon within’ by a Great Wall of Russia extending from Europe through the Caucasus to the edge of China, now led by the Celestial Ruler. Oprichniks levy 3% insurance from Chinese merchants transporting goods that now include everything the Russians use, including the official 400-horsepower Mercedovs cars. These goods are transported on the ten-lane, four-high speed railway track Guangzhou-Brest Road.

Andrei Danilovich Komiaga is one of the inner oprichniks, putting down opposition to His Majesty, Father Nikolai Platonovich, as well as gang-raping and pillaging. Their sordid fraternal bonding rituals involve violence, drug taking and orgies, described in all too graphic detail. The fable describes a typical day [the association with Solzhenitsynin’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is obvious] in Komiaga’s service of a country where religion is once again promoted.

Much of the dialogue harks back to an earlier age with salutations [‘Work and Word’, ‘We Live to Serve’, ‘Hail the Purge’,] and declamations [‘To Rus’, ‘Woe to this house’, ‘Hail the Sweep of the Broom - Hail and Sweep them Clean’], this being contrasted with advanced technologies [mobilov phones, news bubbles]. The characters are almost exclusively male – the main exceptions being a clairvoyant who throws books into the fire ‘because they burn so well’ and the fabulously-endowed half-Jewish Czarina.

Komiaga notices what is going on around him – offered a selection of food suitable for an oprichniki ‘rye vodka with gold or silver sand, Shanghai sturgeon caviar, Taiwanese smoked filled of sturgeon, marinated milk mushrooms in sour cream, jellied beef aspic, Moscow perch, in aspic, Guangdong ham’ he wonders what the waiter has to eat.

This is not a subtle satire but there is much more than mere shock value to the writing. The author can strike home, as when Komiaga reflects on the Czar’s decision to replace supermarkets by kiosks ‘Each kiosk has to have two of each product so the people can choose. It's wise and profound. Our people - God's people - should choose between two products, not three and not thirty-three. When the people choose between two they feel calm, safe for tomorrow, they have no worries and are content. And with a people like that, a content people, great things can be achieved.’

Sorokin includes narrative, poetry and film dialogue, and Jamey Gambrell had a difficult task creating a translation. The book is sprinkled with italicised words and with Russian, Chinese and German words and phrases that strangely are only translated very late on - were these in the original Russian text?

Readers better informed than I about Russia will probably understand a section where the oprichniks discuss the law ‘On the Four Taxes’. Others will better appreciate the various poetic lampoons [pasquinades] that Komiaga, clearly cultured despite his bloodthirsty actions, appreciates and which must have proved an especial challenge for the translator.

As ever, laws that repress the people are readily avoided or subverted by the ruling classes and their lackeys.

On page 66 there is, I assume, a feline misprint when Komiaga rages against opponents ‘Liberals differ from the lowly worm only in their mesmerizing, witch-brewed speechifying. Like venom and reeking puss they spew it all about, poisoning humans and God’s very world, defiling its holy purity and simplicity’.
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on 13 September 2012
This is a stark depiction of a future Russia that is built around the worst of the practices of their past leaders. The hypocrisy is exceeded only by the brutality. This is also a disturbing book that would be funny in reading if it wasn't so serious in effect.

With books that have been translated into English, I never know if I am actually reading the "style" of the author or the translator. And, not knowing Russian, I have to assume the translator did a great job. Given the acclaim the book received in Russia and how well this read, I think Gambrell did a fine job.

While the events portrayed are, from a practical standpoint, highly unlikely; they are, from a philosophical standpoint, certainly plausible. Given the history of Russia in the 20th Century, the reader will not be very surprised at Sorokin's "world".
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on 8 July 2014
The satire on Putin's Russia is clear, and in its way effective, but as a literary work Day of the Oprichnik soon palls. The excess of this dystopian vision rapidly becomes repetitive - by the final chapters what are supposed to be further revelations of Oprichnik decadence become vague irritants. Speculative fictions that are unmoored from any real internal reality (no matter how fantastic) lose the reader's interest rapidly.
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VINE VOICEon 17 March 2011
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. 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-centyury. 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 an initially 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.
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