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'Oprichnik' a Brilliant, Bizarre Satire of Modern Russia

“Day of the Oprichnik” takes place in a totalitarian state, headquartered in Moscow. The year is 2028. Russia, perpetually a landscape of utopian vision and dystopian nightmare, is plunged again into a state of fear. Welcome to New Russia: Ivan the Terrible has returned, in the form of a new and ghastly monarch. The hero of the novel is Komiaga, a member of the czar’s elite inner circle—the ‘oprichnina,’ named after Ivan the Terrible’s brutal warriors, often called the world’s first secret police. We are privy to Komiaga’s interior monologue as he engages in a typical day’s activities: your average murder of political enemies; a few jiggers of vodka here and there; flights to Siberian provinces; a public flogging; the suppression of a populist bard; a few lines of cocaine; some blackmail; and a number of encounters with the debauched royal family. Sorokin turns the familiar genre of the dystopian novel—as exemplified in “Brave New World” and “1984”—on its head, filtering bewildering impressions of this new world through a hero who is the fearsome instrument of state power. In your typical dystopian novel, the reader becomes acquainted with a new world through a Joe-Average-type protagonist, a cog in the bureaucratic wheel—think Winston Smith or Bernard Marx, the protagonists of “1984” and “Brave New World.” Sorokin’s Komiaga is anything but a cog: he is “a link in the iron chain of the oprichniks,” a figure that revels in—and helps to create—the nightmarish social context of New Russia.



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