“I believe, that not now, not soon—after fifty years or so—but there will come a writer of genius, and precisely a Russian one, who will absorb within himself all the burdens and all the abominations of this life and will cast them forth to us in the form of simple, fine, and deathlessly—caustic images. And we shall all say: ’Why, now, we ourselves have seen and known all this, but we could not even suppose that this is so horrible! In this coming artist I believe with all my heart.”
Kuprin is too sincere, too big, to have written this with himself in mind; yet no reader of the scathing, searing arraignment called “Yama,” will question that the great, the gigantic Kuprin has shown “the burdens and abominations” of prostitution, in “simple, fine, and deathlessly-caustic images”; has shown that “all the horror is in just this—that there is no horror...” For it is as a pitiless reflection of a “singular,” sinister reality that “Yama” stands unsurpassed.
B. G. GUERNEY.
New York City, January, 1922.
A word must be said of Kuprin’s style. He is by no means a purist; his pages bristle with neologisms and foreign—or, rather, outlandish—words; nor has he any hesitancy in adapting and Russianizing such words. He coins words; he is, at times, actually Borrowesque, and not only does he resort to colloquialisms and slang, but to dialect, cant, and even actual argot. Therein is his glory—and, perhaps, his weakness. Therefore, an attempt has been made, wherever corruptions, slang, and so forth, appear in the original, to render them through the nearest English equivalents. While this has its obvious dubieties and disadvantages, any other course would have smacked of prettification—a fate which such a book as “Yama” surely does not deserve.
A long, long time ago, long before the railroads, the stage-drivers—both government and private—used to live, from generation to generation, at the very farthest confine of a large southern city. And that is why the entire region was called the Yamskaya Sloboda—the Stage-drivers’ Borough; or simply Yamskaya, or Yamkas—Little Ditches, or, shorter still, Yama—The Pit. In the course of time, when hauling by steam killed off transportation by horses, the mettlesome tribe of the stage-drivers little by little lost its boisterous ways and its brave customs, went over into other occupations, fell apart and scattered. But for many years—even up to this time—a shady renown has remained to Yama, as of a place exceedingly gay, tipsy, brawling, and in the night-time not without danger.