812 Esperanto books in my life

Firstly, thank you for coming to this page; it’s probably the least popular page in the whole collection. I wasn’t looking forward to writing it, and the reason isn’t hard to guess. Most of you probably don’t even know there are books in Esperanto. If I were to reel off a whole slew of authors and titles you wouldn’t have heard of them. But this is actually the main appeal of Esperanto literature; you get to read things you would never have come across in any other way. So let’s take a step back and set the scene.

When you read Dickens or Roald Dahl or Harry Potter, you are reading what the author wrote. When you read Madame Bovary (unless you read it in French of course) you aren’t reading what the author wrote, you’re reading a translation. And you have no way of knowing how faithfully it has been translated, whether it is a fair reflection of the quality of the original, whether the translator has “improved” it according to his/her own opinion, and so on.

This is where Esperanto comes in. Translations into Esperanto are almost always done by a native speaker of the source language who therefore has a better chance of understanding the shades of meaning of the original. And Esperanto, not being quite so set in its ways as English is, has the flexibilty to adjust to the style of the original author. So, given translators of equal ability, an Esperanto translation can be more faithful than an English one; and this is particularly true of languages not related to English such as Hungarian, Finnish, Japanese and Chinese. How many Hungarian authors have you read?

Being a bit pernickety about reading the author’s own words, I only read translations where I have no alternative. I’m on fairly safe ground with French, Spanish and Italian, but when it comes to (for example) German, I’m pretty sure that a translator will have understood the original a lot better than I ever would.

The real advantage of Esperanto comes in when you go further afield. It has given me the chance to read Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and other authors that I would not have known about if it weren’t for the Esperanto translation. There are probably English translations of all the things I have read, but with so many books published in English every day, “exotic” authors get overlooked. And, as I said above, I’d much rather read them in Esperanto. Reading a Russian novel in English just doesn’t seem natural.

Now only about half the books published in Esperanto are translations, the other half being Esperanto originals which you can’t get anywhere else. There has been original writing in Esperanto ever since the “beta-versions” of the language in the early 1880s. The standard has had to be reasonably high. It takes some effort to get an Esperanto book published, so there’s no point in publishing drivel. Esperanto hasn’t had its Shakespeare yet, but it took 500 years of literary history to produce one Shakespeare, and Esperanto has only been going for 120 years.

I still have a long way to go in exploring Esperanto literature. Being a librarian, I find that too much of my time is taken up with selecting, ordering and cataloguing the books and too little time is left for reading them. Every month about a dozen new books arrive in the Butler Library and in a whole year I only read two or three of them.

But if you ever do read anything in Esperanto, make sure not to miss these:

Vojaĝo al Kazohinio, by Sandor Szathmári

Metropoliteno, by Vladimir Varankin

Adolesko, by Balazs Wacha…

or, by way of translations, La majstro kaj Margarita (Bulgakov) and La cikonikalifo (Babits). You may even understand Shakespeare better in Esperanto!

Those should keep you going for a while.

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One Response to “812 Esperanto books in my life”

  1. Leonora Says:

    The first line of this entry made me laugh, because I had wondered how much I would like this one! But I was pleasantly surprised, it’s interesting to hear that you prefer Esperanto translations because it is more flexible than English.

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