Don Harlow's Esperanto Book

I did not fully appreciate Don Harlow when I met him at the office of the Esperanto League for North America in the San Francisco Bay area towards the end of the 1980s. I surmise this was because I was extremely irritated by the American Esperanto movement at the time. I remember that he published a book in English in Esperanto, but I never saw it until I consulted his indispensable web site of Esperanto literature many years later:

Literaturo en Esperanto (Don Harlow)

Literature in Esperanto (Don Harlow) [ligoj al literaturaj revuoj, recenzoj, k.a. / links to literary magazines, reviews, et al]
Even then, I did not pay sufficient attention to his book. Reading over several chapters in the past week, I finally realized what a great background source it is for English speakers/readers who want to learn more about the Esperanto phenomenon. While the whole book is worth reading, I want to single out several chapters of current interest.

The Esperanto Book by Don Harlow, last rev. 1995. :
Now I think this is one of the best introductions to Esperanto in English you can find. Of course, 17 years have passed, and there is much to add, especially in the area that interests me the most right now, literature. But the book has not been rendered obsolete. There is Harlow's history of personal engagement, a precis of the evolution of Esperanto literature, trends in the history of the Esperanto movement in the large sociopolitical context, varying ideologies and cultural politics associated with Esperantists, and finally the question of what is Esperanto culture and the role of the moral idealism within it.

Important here I think is conveying the texture of the Esperanto world as a culture-forming phenomenon. Ultimately, this is far richer approach than kindergarten-level propaganda. That is, convey Esperanto as a living language, not just advertise how it is the interminably procrastinated solution to the world language problem.

There are a few tidbits on the various cultural-literary positions of prominent Esperantists. How many places can you read in English the divergent postures of Esperanto's two most influential cultural figures in my life span, the Hungarian Kálmán Kalocsay and the Scot William Auld? Kalocsay is more aloof than his fellow Hungarian literary pioneer Julio Baghy, and is primarily interested in literature, valuing literary translation highest. Kalocsay doesn't believe in Esperanto culture outside of literature, whereas Auld does.

Harlow pretty much follows the position of Auld and others, citing the many cultural particularities of the Esperanto world, embodied in its in-group expressions. But I claim that this proves Esperanto is a subculture. As to what kind of a subculture it is, we come to the question of the "interna ideo" (internal idea), i.e. that well-known moral idealism that is said to underlie the Esperanto movement. I think Harlow is right to suggest that the internal idea expresses the emotional tie to the language that allowed Esperantists in former times to endure, survive, and surmount hardship, ridicule, persecution, and eventually mass murder. Nevertheless, to simply characterize the Esperanto community past or present in this way is to mistake ideology for reality. Elsewhere Auld emphasizes the emotional tie to the language. I agree that this is an essential part of the explanation for whatever cohesion can be found among Esperantists, but I think that this language loyalty is more variegated and its motivation often less obvious than what the prevailing ideology claims.

Perhaps the best and most effective remedy at hand is to tell as rich a story as possible, about Esperanto as a living language, which could work wonders in the public mind that all the cookie cutter promotional literature in the world could not.  And Harlow has made a valuable contribution in this direction.


Bill Chapman said...

You and your readers may well be pleased to hear of "Star in a Night Sky", a newly published book, which I have on order.

According to the advertisers (who are seemingly unaware of Don Harlow's book:

"For the first time English readers have an opportunity to discover something of the literature and the thinking behind the international language Esperanto.

"Never before have so many translated texts, ranging from prize-winning poetry, plays, short stories and extracts from novels to a recipe and a scientific treatise, been published between the covers of one volume. Esperanto speakers are enthusiastic about their literary and written heritage: English speakers can now find out why."

Go to:


Nickster said...

Just curious, why were you irritated with the US Esperanto movement then?