LearnEsperantowith Us!

Start Learning!

Esperanto Language Blog

Start reading Esperanto literature Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 in Literature, Uncategorized

Amelie Ambrus, an Esperanto literature expert, asked me if I’d like her to write some guest posts to help beginners get their feet wet in the ocean of Esperanto books out there. The Hector Hodler Library in the headquarters of the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) in Rotterdam (Netherlands) has “approximately 30,000 books, with periodicals, manuscripts, photos, music, and other collections.” Their book service has over 4,000 books, CDs and other items. If you live in North America, you’ll definitely want to check out the book service of Esperanto-USA based in the California Bay Area). Anyway, with that abundance of materials, where do you start?

Shelf from Amelie's Esperanto library
(click to see more detail)

After I became conversational in Esperanto, I wondered what to do with it. I’d heard there were books to read – but I had no idea which ones existed or would be interesting. Luckily, there is something for everyone: you just need to know where to look.

For getting started, read Claude Piron’s Gerda Malaperis! – it’s a mystery, in simplified Esperanto, which progressively becomes more complex – followed by Ulrich Matthias’ Fajron sentas mi interne, a novel about a young German Esperanto speaker. Some people love them, some find them boring, but both are really helpful for easing into reading Esperanto and solidifying your knowledge of the language. Both can be read online, or as physical books. With that out of the way, it’s time for the fun stuff!

Poetry is where Esperanto really shines. William Auld was Esperanto’s most famous poet; his La infana raso was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times. He also collected some of the best Esperanto poems in the Esperanta antologio. Two earlier poets also shine particularly brightly: Kálmán Kalocsay and Eŭgeno Miĥalski. Kalocsay wrote several books of original poetry, such as Streĉita Kordo. His language is lively and original, and his poetry is stylistically impeccable. Miĥalski’s poetry is often very political, and contains ideas which many readers of this blog may find objectionable, but it is unrivaled in its sheer power. His Plena Poemaro is breathtaking.

Esperanto also has translated poetry. Zamenhof continuously translated poetry, to test and refine Esperanto, before he introduced the language to the world. Later, many talented individuals and groups translated poetry. Kalocsay’s Tutmonda Sonoro has poems from 30 languages!

Want to get a taste of Chinese, Scottish, or Slovakian literature? Ĉina antologio, Skota antologio, and Slovaka antologio can be the first place you look. There are similar anthologies for many languages and countries, and most of them are really good. Esperanto shines as a language for learning about the literature of other languages: many major works are translated into it, usually by native speakers of the source language who are passionate about literature and what they are translating. When I’ve compared translations into English and Esperanto, the Esperanto one is usually higher quality.

Mondo de travivaĵoj by Tibor Sekelj talks about his travels on 5 continents. It’s full of adventure, from meeting world leaders and cannibals to close brushes with death. Many Esperantists lived truly interesting lives; Vasilij Eroŝenko, a blind Russian, spent much of his life in Japan and China, setting up schools for the blind, and writing original works in Esperanto, Chinese, and Japanese. Bona Espero: idealo kaj realo by Roman Dobrzyński covers the Bona Espero school in Brazil, which educates underprivileged children, using Esperanto. Edmond Privat wrote some of the first and best books on the early Esperanto community, including his autobiographical Aventuroj de Pioniro. Privat also wrote about about his friend Mahatma Gandhi, who he traveled with, in Vivo de Gandhi. [Editor’s note: unfortunately out of print, but an excellent read if you can get your hands on it!]

Excerpts of Esperanto literature and great introduction to Esperanto culture

I haven’t even scratched the surface of Esperanto literature; even Geoffrey Sutton’s mammoth Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto only covers a tiny percentage of what has been published. It’s an excellent overview, in English. For a softer introduction, Skizo de la Esperanta Literaturo by Eduard V. Tvarožek is decent. Any short book which mentions “Budapeŝta skolo”, “Skota Skolo” and “Julio Baghy” should be fine. Esperantlingva literaturo in the Esperanto Wikipedia also has an decent overview. Also, Boris Kolker’s Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando is a very readable and incredibly good introduction to Esperanto culture, and has some information on literature.

If you go to Esperanto events, there is usually a “libroservo”, selling books. Talking to the person running it is a great source for further suggestions. The easiest way to buy most books is online, through UEA or Esperanto-USA. Follow those links to browse titles and order books. Many other Esperanto groups sell books, but have smaller selections and sometimes take longer to ship them.

Thanks Amelie for that very informative overview! I now hope our readers will order a few books and take some time away from the screen to get to know some of the great works available in Esperanto. Look forward to her upcoming review of the Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto.

Share this:
Pin it

About the Author:Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


Comments:

  1. Dave:

    Great post! I decided to study Esperanto precisely because of the fascinating literature; for me, it is the most compelling reason to learn it. I was surprised that more information about the literature is not readily available to non- and beginning speakers.

    I hope for an iTunesU “Intro to Eo Lit.” course someday…

  2. Koninda:

    I find Claude Piron/Johán Valano’s books to be charming, engaging, and whimsical, but some readers are more interested in stories that are closer to real life. Sten Johansson has written a number of short books which contain carefully crafted evolution of vocabulary and grammar (as does “Gerda Malaperis”), while dealing with more realistic portrayals of life and the issues people face, such as love, divorce, deception, despair, enthusiasm, and elation. I recommend them highly for beginners in Esperanto literature, or in the language itself.

    I like the works of Ferenc Szilágyi, especially “La granda Aventuro” kaj “Inter Sudo kaj Nordo”. Ferenc lived through the privations of both the First and Second World Wars in Hungary, and then moved to Sweden, only to deal with the challenges of making a life in a completely foreign culture. Through it all, he managed to maintain hope, humor, and enthusiasm. I find his stories inspiring.

    “Vojagho en Esperanto-lando” by Boris Kolker, a Russian now living in the USA, offers a series of vibrant and varied vignettes, highlighting the friendships, gatherings, new experiences, and challenges of the Esperanto movement that generate such enthusiasm for many of us.

    “Vivo kaj opinioj de Majstro M’Saud” de Jean Ribillard, is a delightful and subtle look at humanity (and the culture of North Africa) told from the viewpoint of a donkey. It’s pretty easy to read, but by no means shallow. Also delightful, but neither profound nor subtle, is Louis Beaucaire’s “El la vivo de Bervala sentaŭgulo”. It makes me think of P. G. Wodehouse, if he had allowed himself to include in his tales of young romantic entanglements a few mentions of breasts and other body parts, and occasional references to sex. It’s more humorous than erotic, and plays with the silliness of our passions.

    Esperantists who can enjoy poking fun at themselves will enjoy Louis Beaucare’s “Fabeloj de la Verda Pigo” and David Jordan’s hilarious “Rakontoj de niaj prapatroj”. The latter is comprised of many stories from the ancient days of Esperanto history, when there were dragons, giants, and savage Volapük speakers wandering the earth.

    As I ponder the books that I have read in Esperanto, there are many that I remember for the pleasure and insights that they have brought me. Esperanto literature is a fun part of the language experience for me.

    (PS to Chuck: I’ve heard it said that William Auld was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I don’t believe that a single work, such as “La infana raso”, is ever nominated. The Prize goes to an author for his lifetime of writing.)

  3. Miland Joshi:

    After “Gerda Malaperis!” I would presonally recommend “Vere aux Fantazie?” by Claude Piron. After that, perhaps after reading a few numbers of a young person’s magazine like “Juna Amiko”, the reader might be ready for Majorie Boulton’s “Faktoj kaj Fantazioj” and then Boris Kolker’s “Vojagxo en Esperanto-lando”. I would get a copy of a good dictionary like Wells before moving beyond beginner’s literature such as the books by Piron above. I would also recommend starting a vocabulary notebook at that stage for any important or useful new words.

  4. Agneta Emanuelsson:

    Hello,
    I can´t find anything from Sweden or the other Nordic countries. Is it really so that you know nothing about them?!
    Sinceraly Agneta

  5. Betty Chatterjee:

    @Agneta. Johan Hammond Rosbach from Norway is wrote some very readable Esperanto novels and short stories. Poul Thorsen from Denmark wrote delightful poetry, some of which have been set to music by Nanne Kalma; e.g. la granda kermeso (the big funfair).
    The eminent literary magazine ‘Norda Prismo’ was also produced in Scandinavia.

  6. Amelie Ambrus:

    Hi Agneta,

    I’m glad to say that there is a history of Swedish/Nordic Esperanto literature (and of Esperanto culture in general. One of my favourite Esperanto speakers is Danish. One of the religions with close ties to Esperanto, Martinism, is also mainly tied to Scandinavia. I once had the odd experience of meeting a Scandinavian who’d learned Esperanto as a religious obligation!)

    Koninda mentioned Sten Johansson; he’s a popular Esperanto writer from Sweden. Sten Johansson has also written specifically on this topic, in an article called “Verda Literaturo el Svedio”. It’s online at http://www.ipernity.com/blog/karesema/140615 . I’m assuming that you read Esperanto; if it’s difficult for you, I can summarize it in English.

    The Concise Encyclopedia also has quite a bit of information about Nordic authors and translations between Esperanto and Swedish (in both directions). I highly recommend it. I’ve gathered the information below from a quick dip into it; there are a lot of notable authors who I haven’t mentioned, for the sake of not writing a book.

    Other authors:
    Swedish: – Leif Nordenstorm. His thesis was on “Oomoto’s Mission in Esperanto” (Oomoto is another of the 4 or so religions which have surprisingly strong ties to Esperanto, though most Esperanto speakers, including myself, are not associated with any of them). He also writes about religious literature in Esperanto, children’s stories, etc.

    Magda Carlsson. She mainly translated, though also wrote original literature. She contributed to “Sveda Poemaro” and “Sveda Antologio”, which contain collections of translations of Swedish poems and literature into Esperanto.

    Norwegian: – Johan Hammond Rosbach. He co-edited the “Norda Prismo” periodical, and edited “Norvega Esperantisto” for 25 years, as well as writing several books.

    Danish: – Peter Theodor Justesen. Mainly wrote short stories and translated from Danish.

    Icelandic: Baldur Ragnarsson (nominated for a Nobel prize in Literature in 2007, after William Auld’s death). He’s one of the most important Esperanto poets.

    Does this partially satisfy your curiosity? 🙂

  7. Paŭlo:

    En la unua bildo ni bone vidas tion, kio min ĉiam ĝenas en libro-bretaroj: duono de la libroj havas la titolon legenda de dekstre, alia duono de maldekstre.
    Do oni daŭre devas turnadi la kapon, se oni volas legi ĉiujn titolojn.

    (Kaj estas unu (sufiĉe dika) libro, kiu estas legebla rekte – la kolekto de “la Esperantisto”.)

  8. Amelie Ambrus:

    Koninda is correct that it is authors, rather than works, which are nominated for the Nobel Prize, to the best of my knowledge. Nonetheless, “La infana raso” is Auld’s magnum opus; I doubt he would have been nominated without it, despite the rest of his extensive work.

  9. Gunnar Gällmo:

    To combine Auld with Nordic literature: he translated, with Bertil Nilsson, “Aniara” by Harry Martinson (one of the two latest Swedish receivers of the Nobel Prize of Literature). As the first English translation of the same book had left out one of the songs, declared by his Scottish compatriot Hugh McDiarmid to be “untranslatable”, Auld started with that one, and when he found he could do it, he did the rest.

  10. Language learner:

    I don’t understand, I thought Esperanto was supposed to be just an auxiliary language for international communication. So what’s the point of having original literature (as opposed to translations). Are we supposed to adapt to some new Esperanto culture instead of preserving our own?

  11. Amelie Ambrus:

    @”Language learner”

    Esperanto has hundreds of thousands to millions of speakers. It’s hard to find a group that large which agrees on everything. Esperanto speakers vary widely in their thoughts about what Esperanto should be.

    In general, Esperanto speakers are curious about other cultures, and believe in cultural preservation. Esperanto also has over a century of history, and has evolved a culture of its own; there’s no point in denying this. Personally, I love Esperanto culture, and am glad that it exists. I live in my cultures, and learn more about others, sometimes by means of Esperanto, and I’m happy about this.

    Esperanto is useful as an international auxiliary language – as are a variety of other languages. I don’t see any reason to not enjoy its culture, and share what I enjoy about it, whether because of its origins or of what other people think it should be. Fundamentally, I consider Esperanto much like any other living language; it has strengths, weaknesses, and a vibrant culture of its own.

  12. Amelie Ambrus:

    @Paŭlo: do, indas lerni legi la titolojn sen turni la kapon :-). Post iom da tempo, estas ĝena havi turnatan kapon, eĉ sen turnado.

    Tamen, vi pravas ke estas iom malbela ke la libroj estas diverslegendaj. Eblas meti la librojn por preskaŭ eviti tion, sed aliaj kriterioj pli gravas al mi mem.

  13. Dave:

    For a good pocket overview, I’d recommend Benczik’s Baza Literatura Krestomatio. I’m reading this now and it has poems and prose excerpts from 50+ important authors, many of which are mentioned above. It’s focus is on original literature, but it does contain some translations into Esperanto if they were important for various reasons. It’s perfect to get a little taste of everything and not have to buy a small library in the process.

  14. Gunnar Gällmo:

    I think already the first Universal Congress of Esperanto, in 1905, declared that Esperanto may be used by anyone “for any purpose”, thus not only as “just an auxiliary language for international communication” (that’s just one of many possible applications). So if some writers want to write their books in Esperanto, it is their right to do so; and they help the language to develop.

  15. Penny Vos:

    Literaturamantoj interesiĝos scii pri la aperigo de tute nova poemaro de la Indonezia verkisto, Yohanes Manhitu. Legu pli pri la libro kaj verkisto je: http://mondeto.com/sub-la-vasta-264ielo.html

  16. Ralph Dumain:

    The comments about Miĥalski are uncalled for. He only wrote political doggerel in the 1930s under Stalinist pressure. His 1929 volume PROLOGO is one of the landmarks of Esperanto literature & is free of political cant.

    I find this introduction unsatisfactory in many respects.

  17. John Smith:

    Lots of people recommend “Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando” by Boris Kolker, but when I finally got round to borrowing a copy and reading it I wasn’t particularly impressed. There’s some good stuff in it, but there’s also some stuff that I’d call embarrassing and likely to put people off, in my opinion. Also, it is a well-documented fact that most people don’t like reading short stories and extracts from larger works. They prefer to read a whole novel. So even an improved “Vojaĝo en Esperanto-lando” would be unsatisfactory for most readers. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to find a short list of the “best” ten or twenty Esperanto novels, look up a few reviews and descriptions of them, then choose one that sounds as if you might like it. There’s a long list of Esperanto novels here: http://esperanto.net/literaturo/roman/index.html Some of my favourites are: “Kiel akvo de l’ rivero”, “Vojaĝo al Kazohinio”, “Sur kampo granita”, “Mistero minora”, “La ŝtona urbo”, “Kredu min, sinjorino!”.

  18. Valdas Banaitis:

    It’s a pity I could not attend the seminar on Esperanto literature at the University of Louisville a month ago and have my say about the importance of literature for Esperanto. Esperanto is a unique naturally born idiom, auxiliary , but not artificial as hundreds of conlangs, none of them has survived longer than a couple of textbook editions.
    It was initiated by a child of genius from a diaspora people with several pidgins (Yiddish, Ladino), from a language teachers’ family in a multilingual settlement in the deep of Europe, as a result of infantile rebellion against school routine. Its origin is comparable with its contemporary and antipode Papuan Tok Pisin – both have undergone a century-long social-linguistic trial in most unfavorable circumstances, till one became a national language, and the other was corroborated by the spontaneous language birth by children themselves in Nicaragua. Esperanto was meant to be learned without teaching, just by immediate usage, with the simplest key of phonemic game rules, w/o grammar maze. Lots of fluent speakers have started on their own, just diving into literature – so Esperanto is acapble to engender from a single book. A fictional example one can find in the bestseller “Popular Music from Vittula” by Mikael Niemi, and the scientific grounds of tis phenomenon, in the works of Carl Rogers, Caleb Gattegno,Leo Vygotsky, David Kolb,Judy Kegl-Shepard and her team.

  19. Valdas Banaitis:

    The phonemic grammar structure of Esperanto is especially user-friendly. After a short overview of the language traffic rules you are ready to navigate confidently through the texts accumulating vocabulary, so I suppofrt the appeal of Koninda. Read, read aloud and listen to audiobooks in Esperanto!

  20. Lee Miller:

    One thing that is troublesome about recommendations of Esperanto literature is that many desirable and “classic” works are no longer in print, and are not easily found as used books–certainly not available from the usual Esperanto book services, such as UEA, FEL, or Esperanto-USA. This fact can be frustrating for people who are seriously looking for recommendations. While it’s great to say Beaucaire’s “Fabeloj de la Verda Pigo” is worth reading, if you can’t get your hands on it it’s not a very helpful suggestion.

    I’d recommend that whenever someone offers suggestions about what to read in Esperanto, the suggestions should include information about where to find the books or other publications.

    LM

  21. Doktoro Lingvo:

    I really believe with all of my heart, that one day Esperanto will be a global auxiliary language learned in the entire world. The togetherness will come and people will ultimately embrace each other. Peace is the ultimate goal of Esperanto and i HOPE that this goal arrives as soon as possible. Long live Esperanto! 🙂

  22. Valdas Banaitis:

    Esperanto estas reciproke interkompreniga lingvokrea modelo intuita de genia infano, virtuozo de Pig Latin. Li inversis ties strukturon, anstatauigante la sencokashajn silabojn per gramatikaj markiloj, kiuj faris la lingvomekanismon ne nur travidebla, sed ankau facile manipulebla kaj improvizebla. Zamenhof ne mensogis en 1887-1889 deklarante en 8 lingvoj. ke tio nestas lernebla en unu horo. En 1900 li ripetis tion 9-foje antau Franca Akademio por la Scienca Progreso. Ghi vere estas lernebla same facile kiel irigo de auto “sur la kampo for de l’mondo antau nokto de somero”. Tamen li neniam rekomendis kaj neniam memciis instruadon de Esperanto, char la konstruo de tiu chi faru-mema lingvo kun gramatiko foneme markita kaj elmetita eksteren emfaze aparte de leksiko “estas tute fremda por la Europaj popoloj”, kaj la tradicia lerneja aliro s tute neadekvatas kaj misgvidas. 50% de Esperanta teksto estas gramatikaj vortetoj – nur 190, listigeblaj en 125-elementa katalogo.Por ilia grupigita glosaro sufichas 5 kovrilaj pagho. Kun tio chi en la mano ek al navigado tra literaturo akumulante leksikon – aliajn 50%(radikojn kun afiksoj, vestitajper 9 vortigaj uniformoj) el rakontaj situacioj lau ofteco. Post praktikado- (ralego tralego de 200 paghoj la mekanismo jam firme sidos en la kapo kaj vi jam ne restos eterna komencanto. Sed por tio oni devas tuite forgesi la gramatikajn okulshirmilojn, truditajn de la lernejo
    Valdas Banaitis el Litvo, la patrujo de Zamenhof

  23. Valdas Banaitis:

    Esperanta gramatiko estas tiom kompakta kaj kohera – 9 vortuniformoj, 125 vortetoj kaj sinteksa sintakso el 3 segmentoj – fraza verbo (ago), subjekto (agantgo) kaj malsubjekto (agato, ĉiuj ajn cirkonstancoj de ago) ke oni devas ricevi ghin tutan en la komenco mem, ne ooporcir trsaa longa lecionasro, kiel instrukcion de kart- au shakludo. Ne lerno-, sed legolibron bezonas komencanto kun la nonstruo de las mekanusmo sur las kovrilasj 5 paghoj kaj kun radikaro en aldona kajero kun 3 rubrikoj por i-rsadikoj, o-radikoj kaj a-radikoj, afiksaro aparte. Ne regulojn, sed oedigon oni sekvu navigante tra literaturo. Bedauirinde, la ordigo de Universala Vortaro (la leksika vesto de Esperanto) estis forlasita antau 90 jaroj, kaj ghidisdkreskis kreskis sovasghe kancere.

  24. shimke:

    When learning a language, I find that a bi-lingual edition is an essential bridge between elarning the elementary grammar and reading texts of their own. Here in France there are several publishers who edit series of bi-lingual books with a French translation on the right side of the page and facing it the English, Spanish, German, Latin, Russian etc original. I have never seen anything like this in Esperanto. Does it exist? Available on-line?


Leave a comment: