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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Day of the Oprichnik

Vladimir Sorokin

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To purchase Day of the Oprichnik

Title: Day of the Oprichnik
Author: Vladimir Sorokin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Day of the Oprichnik - US
Day of the Oprichnik - UK
Day of the Oprichnik - Canada
Day of the Oprichnik - India
Journée d'un Opritchnik - France
Der Tag des Opritschniks - Deutschland
La giornata di un Opricnik - Italia
El día del Oprichnik - España
  • Russian title: День Опричника
  • Translated by Jamey Gambrell

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Our Assessment:

B- : dystopian Russian satire without quite enough to it

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FASz . 20/1/2008 Julia Encke
FAZ . 11/10/2006 Kerstin Holm
The LA Times . 13/3/2011 Susan Salter Reynolds
The National . 11/2/2011 Sam Munson
NZZ . 13/2/2008 Uwe Stolzmann
The NY Rev. of Books . 22/3/2012 Rachel Polonsky
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/3/2011 Stephen Kotkin
TLS . 29/4/2011 Edmund Griffiths
Die Zeit . 28/2/2008 Evelyn Finger

  From the Reviews:
  • "Für ihn, sagt Sorokin, habe sich das Verhältnis zur Obrigkeit in Russland seit dem sechzehnten Jahrhundert, also seit der Zeit Iwans des Schrecklichen, kaum verändert. Mit der Literatur versuche er, eine spezielle Optik zu schaffen, mit Hilfe derer man sich selbst in der Gesellschaft erkennen kann; die Mechanismen offenzulegen, um sie zu überwinden. Doch legt Sorokin nicht einfach etwas offen: Er führt die Leser hinab in die dunklen Keller des kollektiven Unbewussten, indem er die Polyphonie aus russischer Geschichte, Mythologie und Märchen zu Gehör bringt." - Julia Encke, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "Alexej Tolstoi abwandelnd, könnte man sagen, erschreckender als das Buch selbst sind die Reaktionen darauf. Wenn seine Landsleute den Monsterstaat kulturell nicht verarbeiten können oder wollen, zeigt das, befindet Sorokin, daß der lebt und gedeiht." - Kerstin Holm, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(A)n arrow in the heart of the Russian mafia; 50 years ago it would have been aimed at the Communist Party." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The novel, despite its profusion of incident, is anything but anarchic: the world of the oprichniks is seamlessly constructed, the technology they use believable, their private slang utterly convincing" - Sam Munson, The National

  • "Leider gibt der Roman – abgesehen von dem faszinierenden Stoff – literarisch nicht viel her. Der Stil bleibt schlicht, bald bieder, bald pathetisch, dem Gemüt des Helden angepasst. Und das Erzählmuster, streng chronologisch vom Morgen bis in die Nacht, erschöpft sich irgendwann. Dennoch ist dies ein wichtiges Buch. Es erschreckt uns. Und lenkt unsere Wissbegier auf Vorgänge, die im Tagesgeschäft von Politik und Journalismus gern vergessen werden." - Uwe Stolzmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Day of the Oprichnik comes across almost as extended performance art in its evocative rituals and bizarreness." - Stephen Kotkin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Once all the historical allusions have been thoroughly intermingled with Sorokin's shafts of satire aimed at current political and literary targets, the result is a fabric that would need a ponderous apparatus of notes and references to be fully explicated for the foreign reader. (...) (T)he in-jokes are a substantial part of what Day of the Oprichniks has to offer. There is not much of a plot; and Sorokin deliberately avoids giving his characters any human depth." - Edmund Griffiths, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Doch ist absurde Pornografie gleich Satire ? (...) Sorokins Roman scheitert auch deshalb, weil ihm jene Humanität fehlt, von der gelungene Dystopien leben" - Evelyn Finger, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       It was Ivan the Terrible that first conceived of the oprichnina -- empowering a group he found useful for undermining (and terrorizing) the aristocracy of the time -- but it wasn't a long-lasting institution, disbanded after less than a decade. In Day of the Oprichnik Vladimir Sorokin resurrects them, imagining a Russia some twenty years in the future which is again a monarchy and where such tools of the state again wield great power (and to ill effect) -- though, of course, Sorokin's dystopian vision of the future shares uncomfortably much with contemporary Russian political conditions.
       Day of the Oprichnik is a day-in-the-life novel of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, a high-ranking oprichnik, and describes what he does on what is presumably a pretty typical day. Over the course of the day more than one aristocrat is disposed of, beginning with one whom an example is made of, his children packed off to an orphanage (where they'll be raised: "to be honest citizens of a great country"), the wife gang-raped, and his house burnt to the ground. There are some (shady) business deals Komiaga has to take care of, breakfast with Her Highness (far after midnight, as the Tsaritsa keeps a Stalinesque night-owl schedule), and a friendly get-together with the Brotherhood, the other oprichniks, which culminates (quite literally) with a co-joining described (quite strikingly) as a caterpillar.
       A future-vision, there's also a touch of science fiction in Day of the Oprichnik, such as the mobilov mobile phones (complete with holographic imaging). More significant, of course, are the geo-political changes, beginning with the restoration of the monarchy. Russia is now a weaker rump-state, but contemporary issues -- such as Europe's interest in Russian gas -- still figure. The dominant country and economic power is, however, China.
       The one thing the oprichniks stand for is, of course, a belief in the glory of Mother Russia, and so they're the usual nationalist louts who exalt in all things Russian and are completely devoted to their monarch (and attack the intelligentsia and the aristocracy, who seem to undermine it all). Sorokin nicely captures the oprichniks' superficial nostalgia, including their love of literature and music, with patriotic poetry and song figuring quite prominently in the book. There are also more decadent indulgences, from the straightforward brutality of the gang-rape to some drug-taking and then that caterpillar episode.
       There's good material here, and Sorokin presents some of it quite well, but on the whole the book feels terribly forced, the single-day-constraint one that leaves Sorokin trying to pack in every imaginable aspect of oprichnik-life he can come up with (and he comes up with a lot). There are some nice ideas of the changes Russia has undergone (and some things that never seem to change ...), but Sorokin's attempt at a depiction of the 'Russian character' falls short: these characters, and these events feel too plucked out and too much removed from context. Readers (especially Russian ones) can, of course, find much amusement (of the unsettling sort) in the correspondences with Putin's Russia, but in some of its wilder inventions -- including, for example, the Tsaritsa -- Sorokin chokes the satire's immediacy.
       There are many points of interest, including the oprichnik-explanation of the Russian condition (and current state, increasingly cut off from the rest of the world, withdrawing into itself and trying to escape (decadent) outside influences), a cocooning in faith, both Orthodox religion and, of course, the monarchist-national ideals. But from a soothsaying clairvoyant to some of the drug-induced revelry Sorokin packs too much in -- and his style, almost clunkily straightforward, bogs things down further. Too much in the novel -- from Komiaga onwards -- is merely representative; too little actually conveys Sorokin's vision with any art.
       Dispiriting -- but not just in the way Sorokin means it to be.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 November 2010

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Day of the Oprichnik: Reviews: Vladimir Sorokin: Other books by Vladimir Sorokin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Vladimir Sorokin (Владимир Сорокин) was born in 1955.

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