In Russia, novel read you

Day of the Oprichnik cover

Day of the Oprichnik

Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik is Ivan the Terrible meets A Clockwork Orange. It’s a day in the life of a secret policeman in a futuristic Russia. The Tsardom of Russia is back in full force. Andrei Danilovich Komiaga drives a red Mercedes adorned with a severed dog’s head (servants pick a new one each day). His ringtone features the sounds a man being tortured to death. His workday consists mostly of extortion and murder, with the occasional odd gang rape for good measure. And when he’s not burning, raping and pillaging Komiaga spends most of his free time on drugs.

This novel has its roots in Ivan the Terrible’s oprichnina. From Wikipedia:

The oprichnina consisted of a separate territory within the borders of Russia, mostly in the territory of the former Novgorod Republic in the north. This region included many of the financial centers of the state, including the salt region of Staraia Russa and prominent merchant towns. Ivan held exclusive power over the oprichnina territory. The Boyar Council ruled the zemshchina (‘land’), the second division of the state. Until 1568, the oprichnina relied upon many administrative institutions under zemshchina jurisdiction. Only when conflict between the zemshchina and oprichnina reached its peak did Ivan create independent institutions within the oprichnina.

As for methods:

The first wave of persecutions targeted primarily the princely clans of Russia, notably the influential families of Suzdal’. Ivan executed, exiled, or tortured prominent members of the boyar clans on questionable accusations of conspiracy. 1566 saw the oprichnina extended to eight central districts. Of the 12,000 nobles there, 570 became oprichniks, the rest were expelled. They had to make their way to the zemschina in mid winter, peasants who helped them were executed.

Sorokin’s Russia has also turned inward. The king (His Majesty, Komiaga exclaims breathlessly)  is obsessed with orthodox religion. He’s outlawed cursing. Blasphemy is punishable by death (And thank God, Komiaga would add). In fact there are two forms of religion in Day of the Oprichnik: traditional Russian Orthodox religion and a religion of absolute loyalty to the state.

The novel clearly links Ivan the Terrible’s Russia to contemporary, Putin-led Russia. It’s a vicious satire of crony capitalism, religious fanaticism and obscene nationalism. Day of the Oprichnik is not a particularly pleasant read . It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Fortunately it’s quick and punchy. Sorokin hardly wastes a word.

Worth a look if you’ve got a strong stomach.


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