Bridge Of Words: Esperanto And The Dream Of A Universal Language, by Esther Schor
Coming in at more than 300 pages, this is a complicated book, and before discussing my thoughts about it I thought it would be good to discuss the structure of this book and the author’s approach to certain matters. The book consists of four parts, each of which is subdivided into smaller sections, and a short coda that gives the author’s thoughts and reflections about the viability of Esperanto in the future. Through the course of a narrative that took the author several years to write, during which period her marriage fell apart for reasons unknown, the author examines the history of the Esperanto movement with the drama of its founding people and the context it sprang from as part of the crisis of late 19th and 20th century Jewry and other generally internationalist people trying to avoid being crushed in the face of the horrors of world war and Cold War. She then looks at the success of total immersion in Esperanto and what it does for one’s competence as well as one’s ability to relate to other people, examines the tangled lives of two people who symbolize the difficulties faced by Esperantists in the mid-20th century under Communist and Nazi rule, and then looks at the idealism of a school for orphans and neglected children in Brazil run by a couple of Esperanto-speakers and the difficulties that result from the attempts of people to be idealistic in a corrupt society.
In looking at this book and its contents, I figure it was only a matter of time before I had developed an interest in Esperanto. My enjoyment of foreign languages is pretty well known , and as a quirky person with a strong interest in other cultures and the lure of communication. In that light, it is not surprising that the author would have a strong interest in Esperanto either, given her own Jewish background, her own feelings of rootlessness, her own desire for communication and overcoming the curse of Babel (which she thoughtfully discusses here in a way that will likely be worthy of further commentary), and her own knowledge of the tragic history of the last century. She comments thoughtfully on how Esperantists believe themselves to be neutral, but aren’t, seek to build a bridge of words to allow people to communicate but in doing so run face to face with the lack of shared ideals that people even with the same languages often have, as well as the fact that open and avowed membership as part of a cosmopolitan group tends to threaten the more patriotic and nationalistic regimes around them. This is a tragedy that has happened before and can easily happen again.
How is one to regard this book? On the one hand, the author has done considerable duty not only in researching the history of the Esperanto movement but also in immersing herself in its culture. She tells a lot about herself too, in her willingness to engage, her politeness in dealing with others, her concern not to reveal too much about the identity of others who are involved in that culture, perhaps because of concerns about their safety or well-being. It seems to me to be more than a little bit paranoid to hide behind anonymity, but it is possible as well that there are concerns about libel as well. Also, people involved in Esperanto have often been known for an alarming number of pseudonyms as well. This is a warts and all account of Esperanto and its hope as well as its reality, its infighting and quarrels and its genuine concern for helping to better communication. If you have an interest in these matters, this is likely to be a book that you would enjoy, for it reads like a loving but honest account of a quarrelsome but communicative family.
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