Day of the Oprichnik

CW: although glossed, this post includes allusions to sexual assault that took place in the novel.

My mobilov awakens me:

One crack of the whip—a scream.
Two—a moan.
Three—a death rattle.

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an Oprichnik is like? Well, you might be, if you Western readers knew what an Oprichnik was. When his majesty ended the Red and Grey Troubles and restored Russia, he wisely followed the precedent of Ivan Grozny in reconstituting the Oprichnina, a fanatical bodyguard dedicated to rooting out his majesty’s enemies. Work and Word!

Now, for the first time, Vladimir Sorokin has shared with the world the important work that the Oprichnina is doing on behalf of Russia by following Andrei Danilovich Komiaga for a full day, from the moment he awakens hungover from one long day until the moment he returns to bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Between those moments of rest, Komiaga flies around Moscow, and even all of Russia, in service of the Czar. One moment he must make an example of a disloyal nobleman, executing him, of course, while giving his wife a lesson she will never forget and sending his children to a home where they will be raised to be loyal. Then he is off to hear a petition from an actress on behalf of a prisoner and then to the far east where he must put straight petty bureaucrats and Chinese diplomats about a commercial dispute. On the way back to Moscow he must visit a clairvoyant and upon his return he sits witness to a play with potential slander against the Empress, who immediately summons him to his side while she breakfasts as the rest of Russia sups, enjoying the appropriate rewards of her position. Finally, Komiaga concludes his day with the essential Oprichnina communal meal at Batyas, which provide opportunities to greet important guests—even his highness may come!—and build a sense of hierarchy and purpose. This is why we must applaud Batya’s decision to end these gatherings with the caterpiller in the bathhouse.

As I said, a day full of important business on behalf of the Tsar. Laser guns are merely tools without men to use them. Who else will help oversee the Western Wall and European pipeline dispute? Or so carefully enforce his majesty’s wise bans on profanity? Or keep those jackals among the nobility in line? Work and Word!

We must make some concessions for all of this work, of course. His majesty properly banned drugs like the aquarium for people, but shooting up these little fish reinvigorate us and hone our sense of purpose, while the Oprichnik leadership soars as a seven-headed dragon! Greasing is the only way anything gets done, so we must get our cut, and it is only natural that we secure our position by ensuring a steady stream of dissent. It would be a tragedy if his majesty were to not see our worth and rashly disband us, his most loyal servants! Hail!

The Czar has put Russia back to rights. We might use Chinese technology and our children might learn Chinese slang, but men are men and the church again ascendant. No longer is society oppressed by the loose morals of the west or tainted by atheism or “feminism.” What nonsense, and just look where it got them. No, traditional Russian values are best, just as Russian literature is best. His majesty was right to build the wall. With the help of God and the Oprichnina, Russia is more powerful than ever. This power came with casualties, but these are a small price to pay. We have the technology to put dissenters under surveillance and the will to take care of them, if need be. Anything for his majesty. Hail!

Perhaps with Sorokin’s feature, the children of those grasping people who were in business only for themselves will finally understand the purpose of our labor. Work and Word!

Work and Word!


How else to write a review of a satirical critique of technology, monarchy, and modern Russia other than to offer the portrait unreserved praise? The Day of the Oprichnik is a frequently disturbing portrait of near-future Russia, in a world with a restored monarchy, border walls, and modern technology turned toward protecting a brutal regime that exploits its people in the name of protecting them. A select few live large in this system, while everyone else suffers.


I’m chipping away at my backlog of books that includes Sudden Death, A Gathering of Shadows, and Sugar Street. I am now reading David Epstein’s Range, a book about education, learning, and why we should develop general skills before, and sometimes in lieu of, narrow ones.

Act: Nice

People should learn manners. Too often in this country there is a lack of politeness. If people would more often say please and thank you, the entire moral tenor of this great nation would be improved.

In this same vein I would like to propose legislation. It is well established that the government cannot and has no right to control what people think, but within some broad bounds it may guide the expression of those thoughts. Therefore the law will reward good manners, while punishing poor manners and foul language. In order to keep costs down, most of the enforcement will be handled by people in service industries, police officers, teachers, and management, as well as mechanisms for all citizens to participate in enforcement.

I. Good Manners

The initial focus of this bill is to improve manners, therefore that behaviour needs to be rewarded. Whenever pleases and thank yous and other kindnesses and appropriate manners are given, a cookie, about the size of a cookie crisp cookie, but available in several different varieties, will be given. The giver will be the teacher, service person, teacher, or other approved agent who observed the kindness. If none of these are present, the recipient of the kindness may text or call 1-UBE-NICE, fill out the form at, or email to to pass along in the hope that all good manners will be rewarded. Centers will be set up for cookie collection in these instances. Though the cookie is small, those who practice good manners continuously over the course of the day will find they have as many cookies as they could wish for.

In the event that cookie companies lobby against this, they may be granted government contracts to make these cookies.

II. Foul Language and Poor Manners

Just as there is a carro…cookie to reward the desired behavior, there also must be a punishment. The same people who may dispense reward also have the right to inflict punishment. This punishment is a 25 cent fine for each instance of poor manners and/or foul language. Officers may ticket for each offense, and the citizen action information is 1-UBE-NBAD, the poor manner form at, or email

There will be a review center, mostly automated, that will track the complaints and praise in order to avoid abuse of the system. If the computer flags a recipient of either more than a standard deviation above the norm, a human agent will review the file and, if necessary, make a direct, face-to-face review to discover if this person is actually a particularly good or bad person, if it is simply an anomaly or if there is an abuse. In the cases of abuse, that person will be barred from the system for six months. Immediate reward or punishment by appropriate authorities may still be given, but the automated system will automatically refuse to acknowledge inputs.

In order to encourage participation each state will be ranked for politeness, weighted by population. The winning state will receive a statewide ice cream party funded by the losing states, again weighted by population. The initial funds will be credit vouchers to the ice cream suppliers and, the states will provide the requisite funds and then, if the state is running too large a deficit to cover the cost, it will be added as a Act:nice Fee on the yearly state tax return.

In this manner, the manners of our great nation will be improved.