Books and Code · A Miscellany

Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto, by Geoffrey Sutton (A Review)


Years ago I stumbled upon the existence of Esperanto, an auxiliary language invented in the late 1880s to facilitate international communication. I was intrigued by its large body of original literature and tried to find out more. Upon seeing the size of this tome (and its price tag), I had to question just how curious about Esperanto I was. Lucky for me I took the plunge. Even luckier for you, Mondial now also sells an ebook version through Google Books at a huge discount. I’ve bought that too because it’s just that good.

Perhaps it’s a little ironic that the best reference on Esperanto literature is written in English, but I’m glad this is the case because it makes the topic accessible to those who don’t know Esperanto. For newcomers to the language, the typical ‘sales pitch’ focuses on ideological arguments like fostering international understanding, world peace, meeting new people, etc. a.k.a. the “internal idea.” Now, this may have been useful 100 years ago when it was created, but no more. In my opinion, there are two compelling reasons to learn Esperanto: First, to access its original literature which is largely untranslated into major languages. Second, to access literatures of smaller languages which are largely untranslated into major languages, but are very well represented in Esperanto. In these two areas, Esperanto is a veritable gold mine.

Now, here’s how you read this thing. First, if you are very new to Esperanto, jump down to Claude Piron’s section on the creative capabilities of the language. Second, read all the introductory material. Third, read the introductory section to each of the five literary periods. Lastly, read the sections on major authors and those writers who sounded interesting to you from what you’ve already learned. I would recommend starting with the ones Sutton mentions on page 18. Note that you can accomplish most of the above reading for free with the Google Preview feature. After the above (which probably amounts to 100 pages or so), you’ll be well-equipped to delve into the wonders of Esperanto literature. But, you’ll find yourself coming back to Sutton often to check up on a new writer you discovered, or to just open up to a random page, pick a name, and start reading.