Aleksander Korzhenkov, Zamenhof: The Life, Works and Ideas of the Author of Esperanto (2010)
Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, a Russian Jewish ophthalmologist, created Esperanto, an artificial language intended to serve as an international auxiliary language. Aleksander Korzhenkov’s biography is the first to appear in English since Marjorie Boulton’s 1960 biography. In this abridged translation of his original Esperanto bibliography, Korzhenkov presents Zamenhof’s life, with an emphasis on his origin and his spiritual beliefs. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Zamenhof’s life beyond a brief outline, so much of the story Korzhenkov presents was a revelation to me.
In particular, I was greatly suprised by the details related in Zamenhof’s transition from Zionism to Hillelism to Homaranism. I had always thought of Homaranism as a generic belief in the brotherhood of all peoples. Korzhenkov makes it quite clear that the initial religious version of Hillelism (soon renamed to Homaranism) was quite radical. In short, all traces of national, ethnic, relgious, and tribal characteristics and beliefs are to give way to common, neutral practices and beliefs!
I was also surprised by Zamenhof’s belief that the later version of his language did have flaws that should be fixed. Korzhenkov relates this in the description of the Idist schism, the presentation of which I found a bit confusing and would have liked more detail about. This might also because the brief, popular accounts I had read before simplistically portray Louis de Beaufront as the villainous mastermind in this, whereas the actual history is more complex.
I liked this brief (90-odd pages) biography and would recommend it to others looking for a brief introduction to Zamenhof’s life that gives some account of its complexity. However, reading this short work makes me wish for a more in-depth treatment, and I am eagerly awaiting the forthcoming biography of Zamenhof by Esther Schor.