The Life of Zamenhof, by Aleksander Korzhenkov | Literature Review

Although Esperanto is bit of a niche language, it is still captivating how its creation by one man managed to be spread to millions of people.


Essentially, this is the biography of the inventor of the Esperanto language named L. L. Zamenhof. More specifically, it discussed his creation of the language from his earliest years in constructing it to gaining worldwide recognition. It follows Zamenhof from his birth to his death.


A common theme throughout this short biography is the concept of the auxlang, which is a constructed language which served the purpose of being spoken by everyone in the world. So Esperanto was not unique in that sense, though it had stood the test of time unlike the other auxlangs like Volapuk.

Also, the success of Esperanto depended not what to know but who to know. When it failed to kick off, a German land surveyor took an interest in publishing Zamenhof’s work and decided to pay handsomely for it.

The relevance of Esperanto especially involved the formation of a community centering around it. That was why Zamenhof created a subscription system for his language group. Although there were conflicts within these groups, they did ensure that Esperanto would stay alive and congregated together in congresses.

L. L. Zamenhof

Because he was a Polish Jew when the Russian Empire was in power, he was exposed to a wide variety of languages, all of whose speakers did not share a linguistic reciprocity. Because there was difficulty in understanding each other’s languages, Zamenhof made it a goal to construct a language that would bring them all together.

Another reason for this construction was because Zamenhof was Jewish and no longer wanted to feel marginalized. In order to do this, Esperanto would need to be a language that represented egalitarianism, which was one of the principles of the Universal Congress of Esperanto. Of course, there was also his own conflict between his Judaism and his love for Esperanto.

There are instances which show that Zamenhof was not perfect and prone to error, which would make him as human as everyone else. It is not a coincidence that he would give himself the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto, meaning hopeful.

My only criticism with the biography is that it ended abruptly with the death of Zamenhof and the reality that his children were killed during the Holocaust. It did not end with the legacy of the Esperanto language except in the boxed Update on Esperanto. Although they were important in being juxtaposed with the related events of Esperanto’s beginnings, such as the conflict of between Zamenhof and Boirac being explained and then the Update on Esperanto discussing the more than 100 conferences around the world one hundred years after that point. Still, the ending could have held out hope for Esperanto’s future, especially since it endured the rise of the Nazis.

Writing Style

The text itself was easy to understand with nothing much to talk about. I did think it was important to include Esperanto lexicon and root words into the text in order to show what it really was and how it operated.

Real World Application

To understand how this book were to be applied to real world is to understand how to apply Esperanto. In which case, it is a language that has plenty to offer, especially since it was once considered for being the lingua franca of what would become the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations. Although it has not achieved that level of relevance, there are still millions of people around the world who were able to speak Esperanto and it is a vibrant linguistic community.

Suggest This To…

  • Anyone who feels that they cannot complete any literary project. In the case of Zamenhof, it took many drafts, but he eventually created the lexicon and grammar of the Esperanto language. If there is a problem in the world, such as the lack of linguistic reciprocity, then it should become a life-long goal for anyone who is stuck in a rut. Perhaps reading the biography of the founder of an auxlang such as Zamenhof would provide inspiration.

Korshenkov, Aleksander. “The Life of Zamenhof: The Life, Works, and Ideas of the Author of Esperanto.” Translated by Ian M. Richmond. Mondial. 2009.

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