On Skibbel's "A Curable Romantic": Zamenhof & fin de siècle optimism

Living in Someone Else's Body: A Curable Romantic
Joel Magalnick
Friday, October 15, 2010, JTNews, p. 17.

Getting the idea off the ground took a lot more than inventing a dead character, however. It involved research — into Freud and his writings, into the Esperanto movement, and into the Warsaw Ghetto — to create a story about Jakob Sammelsohn, an eye doctor married at a very young age to the village idiot in late-19th-century Galicia, who then escapes to Vienna to begin his life anew.

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And it’s that woman who leads us to Dr. Ludovic Zamenhof, a fellow eye doctor and the creator of the international language Esperanto, to whom Sammelsohn becomes a confidante. And from there, as Sammelsohn squanders that relationship and enters his later years, comes the Holocaust and basic survival.

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Skibell also sees his book as a commentary on differences in perception as the centuries turned, from the 19th to the 20th and the 20th to the 21st.

“It wasn’t even just Dr. Zamenhof who had this utopian idea that humankind was on the lip of perfection. I read a lot of Emile Zola’s work, because of the Dreyfus trial, and here was this heavy-hitting French novelist intellectual, but he too believed that war was about to disappear, and disease was about to disappear and science and rationalism [would take hold],” Skibell says. “I thought it was interesting that in the year 1900 there was all this great hope, but when the year became 2000, we were probably as cynical as we’ve ever been.”

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