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Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

Day of the Oprichnik (2006)

by Vladimir Sorokin

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
could have done without the over-the-top disturbing ending. otherwise a solid book ( )
  jodiesohl | Jun 29, 2014 |
A clever premise - morphing the olden days of the Boyars with modern Russian politics. Sorokin paints a deeply disturbing picture of modern day political "mechanics" in a style that is deceptively simplistic. A book that really stays with you. Don't let other reviewers scare you off - some of them obsess over some sexually explicit scenes in the book. There are actually far fewer than I expected given the reviews and they are no more than a few sentences each. They contribute to the overall sense of degradation of the characters and are not purely nonsensical sensationalism as they are in far too many books these days. ( )
  KimMarie1 | May 6, 2014 |
Let’s start with what doesn’t work. Modern Russia’s Vladimir Sorokin has crafted a short spin through a future dystopia set in the year 2028. He wrote it in 2006. Suspension of disbelief is thus thrown out the window from the start. Twenty-two years are considered enough time to get back to the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, where modern technology mixes seamlessly with a divine monarchy and Medieval styles of corporeal punishment. That would be more believable with an appropriately large cataclysm at its heels (Germany after WWI went pretty insane, for example) but the text doesn’t seem to provide that. It doesn’t work but is it supposed to? The culture barrier between an American reader and a Russian writer doubtless interferes in my understanding of Day of the Oprichnik. It’s a work of speculative fiction which seems to combine all of the worst elements of the Russian state in a soup of depravity without aiming for realism at all, so where the dustjacket got its “too disturbing to contemplate and too realistic to dismiss” I don’t know. Like I said, possibly the culture barrier keeps me in the dark.

However, all of that’s okay. Ignore it and you’ll find that this is really more of a talented guy’s eager emulation of William S. Burroughs. Maybe he hasn’t read Burroughs, I don’t know, but the parallels are pretty strong. It’s not a rip off or a rehash, though it does contain futuristic drugs, X rated homosexual encounters with glowing enhancements and plenty of blackly satiric scenes of unbothered carnage. Sorokin skips town on the Burroughs technique, possessed of his own clean prose style ably translated by Jamey Gambrell in 2011.

The majority of people in this country will not be interested in reading this book at all since it is deliberately repugnant, has no plot and isn’t even satirizing the United States like American Psycho and its ilk. It wasn’t my sort of thing either, mainly due to the strong content feeling gratuitous, a lot of it there just to court controversy. The aspect of this short tome I most solidly enjoyed was the character portrait of the narrator, Andrei Danilovich Komiaga.

"His Majesty’s father, the late Nikolai Platonovich, had a good idea: liquidate all the foreign supermarkets and replace them with Russian kiosks. And put two types of each thing in every kiosk, so the people have a choice. A wise decision, profound. Because our God-bearing people should choose from two things, not from three or thirty-three. Choosing one of two creates spiritual calm, people are imbued with certainty in the future, superfluous fuss and bother is avoided, and consequently – everyone is satisfied. And when a people such as ours is satisfied, great deeds may be accomplished.

"Everything about the kiosks is fine, there’s only one thing I can’t wrap my head around. Why is it that all the goods are in pairs, like the beasts on Noah’s Ark, but there’s only one kind of cheese, Russian? My logic is helpless here. Well, this sort of thing isn’t for us to decide, but for His Majesty. From the Kremlin His Majesty sees the people better, they’re more visible. All of us down below crawl about like lice, hustling and bustling; we don’t recognize the true path. But His Majesty sees everything, hears everything. He knows who needs what."

That’s Komiaga, one of the senior guards and the Oprichnik of the title. Pious, patriotic, in love with Russia. Swears, smokes, sleeps with whosoever he pleases, does drugs, rapes, pillages, tortures and murders in the name of the state and then lectures his fellows “…we’re guards. We have to keep our minds cold and our hearts pure.” The thing is, Komiaga is not a classic unreliable narrator – his assignments are open-shut cases, the 'subversives' he takes out are actually at odds with the state, the draconian tactics he utilizes are carried out as a job and a message to Russia’s enemies. He’s not especially paranoid. He’s simple-minded, decadent and devoted to the cause, that’s all there is to him and that’s precisely what makes him such an interesting narrator.

Being satire, Day of the Oprichnik has no other even partially developed characters. The others are all samples – of corruption in work ethics/politics or of deviancy in some form. And to my frustration the political elements were not the main focus of this future song – rather, perversity takes center stage and is the main flavouring agent of almost every chapter.

Everyone has their own level of tolerance for systemic evildoing and bad behavior. Some will be repulsed/disturbed. I was often bored. It felt like a cheap hook – if the reader’s attention wanders with all the economic shoptalk, there’s a dirty ballad coming up to regain interest. Of these mini-scenes, only a few add much to the overall world-painting, leaving the rest to take away power from the larger set-pieces. Nor, frankly, is the equating of corruption in the halls of power with aberrant sexuality a novel concept in this day and age. It’s been done and done again.

So my biggest problem is that it didn’t provoke much thought despite being a satire and, contrary to the blurbs, I didn’t find it all that funny, the earlier quote being one of the few comic touches I picked up on. There were scenes that stuck with me: the creatively done drug-fish sequence; Komiaga’s visit to the soothsayer and his rather touching final question for her; the dispatching of the nobleman and his wife; Urusov’s visit to the bathhouse; and Komiaga’s brief exchange with a victim of the Russian state. Having asked why she chooses to watch a blood-soaked historical film:

“You think that Russian women are afraid of blood?”

“All women are afraid of blood. And Russian…”

“Mr. Oprichnik, thanks to you and your colleagues, Russian women have long since grown accustomed to blood. To amounts small and large.”

Unfortunately, in a book drifting through a day in the life of an elite policeman of a China-fuelled future (clocking in at less than 200 pages), nothing gets a lot of time on the spot, so that the interesting and annoying are in equal balance and the characters are never fleshed out to a reasonable degree – making this little more than a tour, swift yet leisurely, through the decadent goings-on of a Burroughsian sci-fi future.

Verdict: It feels like he was trying to make his point through obfuscatory slang and perversity, which is fine, that’s his choice as an author. I didn’t care for the result and would have preferred a wider view on the future world’s economic and political support system. Then I might have found it a fascinating work of speculative fiction. As is, I label it a curio. If you worship Burroughs or dystopic fiction, or if you want to be well-versed on the modern Russian literary scene, go right ahead. I move on to other things.

http://pseudointellectualreviews.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/day-of-the-oprichnik-v... ( )
  nymith | Oct 25, 2013 |
Welcome to new Russia, where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible. Corporal punishment is back and the monarchy is divided once again, but this is the future, the not so distant future for the Russian empire, or is it? Day of the Oprichnik follows a government henchman, an Oprichnik, through a day of grotesque event.

Day of the Oprichnik is a thought provoking Science Fiction novel of the worst possible Russia imagined. But while the book is dark, it also is hilarious and then it has this wonderfully satirical nature about it. Komiaga is the narrator of this gem, an anti-hero and one of the Tsar’s most devoted henchmen. While the humour and satire throughout this book is grotesque, this book is a perfect example of great contemporary Russian literature as well as a political critique.

I will admit I like these types of modern Russian Science Fiction novels, like Super Sad True Love Story, you have this wonderful dystopian backdrop as well as the high tech gadgets like the “mobilov” and then you use this to create delightfully thought provoking plot riddled with satirical elements. These witty and intelligently written books are what I live for.

Komiaga is one of the elites, enforcing the laws of the land, helping the Czar’s to rule with an iron fist for the sake of the motherland and the Russian Orthodox Church. This is my first Vladimir Sorokin novel and I would like to compare this novel to one of Philip K. Dick’s (Man in the High Castle to be exact); there is this wonderfully crafted story and you have these philosophical and political ideas that stick with you well after you have finished the book.

The Telegraph named this book one of the best for 2011 and the New York Review called Sorokin “[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius” of late-Soviet fiction”, just to give you an idea of what to expect. Day of the Oprichnik is deliciously complex, full of garish science fiction and hallucinogenic fish. Komiaga’s day might not be a typical one but it’s full of executions, parties, meetings, oracles, and even the Czarina.

I loved every moment of Day of the Oprichnik, even the moments that made me think “WTF” and for all of the people that have read this book, I want to say one word that will mean something to you but not the others, the word that the person who recommended this book to me said when I finished. That work is “caterpillar”. For everyone else; read the book, enjoy the satire, black humour and Science Fiction elements of this book and also find out what I mean.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2013/03/08/book-review-day-of-the-oprichnik/ ( )
  knowledgelost | Mar 30, 2013 |
Like so many dystopias, Day of the Oprichnik is content to merely illustrate a world without adding much in the way of character or plot. Some books can get away with this, if the idea contained within is powerful or new enough to sustain the reader's interest by itself, but most dystopias do not meet this criteria. Generally speaking, dystopias must be graded on a curve: if they can articulate an extreme social or political scenario and demonstrate why and how such a scenario should be avoided, then can be considered at least functional. Day of the Oprichnik fails even this lowered bar. Not only does it lack both a plot and meaningful character development, but, for the average reader, it is impossible to tell what this book is criticizing, much less what that criticism actually consists of.

There is a whole jumble of ideas here, most of which seem to be Russian cultural references that go beyond me. I've been to Russia, speak a little Russian, and maintain a vkontakte profile. Theoretically, I'm the target audience in the English-speaking world, and yet I couldn't make heads or tails of most of this. It is evidently a futuristic version of a tsarist state, with some elements of Soviet communism and 90s oligarchism thrown in. There are some other interesting, but largely undeveloped tidbits: China has become the dominant global power, the West is dependent on Russia for natural resources. But so what? Perhaps Sorokin leaves these threads alone because there is little potential to be mined from them. Mainly, this book is about state violence: it happens, apparently, in Russia, and it is bad. That seems to be the level of social critique offered by Day of the Oprichnik.

Perhaps a better reader than I can explain some more of the references or better tease out some meaning from this book. I'm skeptical, but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. Until then: if this remains Sorokin at his most "accessible," then English readers should stay away. ( )
  lobotomy42 | May 18, 2012 |
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Sorokin, Vladimirprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gambrell, JameyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Imagines a New Russia of the near future that is ruled by a reconstituted nobility and which blends draconian codes with modern technology while locking down Western borders, a region in which a twenty-years-older Vladimir Putin has appropriated all free enterprise.… (more)

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