Schor is strongest in tracing Esperanto’s past and present, but she is less persuasive about its robust future in fostering...




The history of a new language that was invented “to bring conversation to a world of misunderstanding.”

Combining biography, history, and a memoir of her own “middle-aged anguish,” Schor (English/Princeton Univ.; Emma Lazarus, 2006, etc.) offers an illuminating, well-researched chronicle of the development of Esperanto from its origins in 19th-century Bialystok to its present iterations on six continents and in 62 countries. Herself a speaker of the constructed language, she reveals her experiences in Esperanto classes and interactions with Esperanto enthusiasts—earnest, quirky, and sometimes contentious—at conferences throughout the world. Central to her story is the father of the language, L.L. Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist who, ironically, was the son of a censor. As a Russian Jew, subject to virulent anti-Semitism, he sought a way to modernize the Jewish community and “gradually include people of other faiths and nationalities.” Communication was central to his vision: cobbling together grammar and word parts from German, English, Russian, Latin, and Greek, Zamenhof contrived a new language to enable conversation “despite differences of nationality, creed, class, or race.” Meant to be a bridge, Esperanto soon became a source of division, as followers of Zamenhof sought to seize power over the dissemination of the language and align it with their own widely dissonant political views, including imperialism, isolationism, socialism, anarchism, and communism. Multiculturalism, meant to be “the lifeblood of Esperanto,” was not easily achieved. “The problem,” said a former head of the Universal Esperanto Association, “is that language is an institution of power. Intended, Zamenhof hoped, to counter nationalism, fascism, and xenophobia, Esperanto sometimes was undermined by those same forces. As George Orwell, the nephew of an Esperanto leader, noted, “for sheer dirtiness of fighting, the feuds between the inventors of various of the international languages would take some beating.”

Schor is strongest in tracing Esperanto’s past and present, but she is less persuasive about its robust future in fostering transnational identity, “durable international networks,” and a strong sense of “belonging to the world.”

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9079-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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