Jonathan Yardley gives the international language Esperanto short shrift in his review of Tivadar Soros's "Masquerade," recently published in English for the first time after being translated from Esperanto [Style, Oct. 4]. Esperanto is no "joke," but an incredible success story when one considers that it began as an idea in the head of one Jewish student in a small city in racist, oppressive czarist Russia, and has blossomed into a worldwide movement with millions of speakers and a wealth of both original and translated literature of all sorts. An original Esperanto poet was recently nominated for the Nobel literature prize. All this without the support of a national government and all the resources that go with it.
Esperanto's ultimate goal is Herculean: to be taught and used universally as an easily learned second language for all the world. Because it has fallen far short of that tremendous goal, it too often receives belittling instead of the admiration it deserves for its astounding progress.
Hitler and Stalin thought Esperanto enough of a significant threat to their intolerant societies to target its adherents for persecution. Soros's choice of Esperanto to write a memoir about thwarting despotism is a perfect one. This illustrates yet another benefit of Esperanto: It enriches national literatures, in this case, the English-language literature of the Holocaust. Without the international language, this noteworthy book might not have been written.
Esperanto may be "quixotic," but so are most of the good ideas humankind has produced. Also quixotic was resisting and outfoxing a huge and ruthless Nazi army, as the Soros family bravely did. Neither Esperanto nor idealism in the face of heavy odds is "minuscule." It is dedication to worthy goals that makes life worth living.
-- Timothy James Ryan
The writer is president of the Esperanto Society of Washington.