2 December 2011

Ĉu Ĝi Estas Nur Fabelo? (Is it only a fable?) by Jan Wolski

This book published in 1935 weaves a fantasy of inter-war Polish children building cooperatives and planning for better future.

This is a strange fairytale – a mixture of pure fantasy and political parable. The story is set in an impoverished village in interwar Poland. The children engage in various forms of naughty behaviour which parental disapproval – shown physically and morally – fails to rectify. The local teacher (La Senjoro Instrusito) believes that the root of all naughtiness is an attempt by children to emulate adult behaviour. The cure is to set up a youth cooperative in the village in which the children can produce things for themselves – products ranging from schoolbooks to the skating shoes. The children are enthusiastic and set about the work and so become model child citizens.

The bulk of the book consists of an imaginary state of affairs in which all aspects of building a network of cooperatives, first across Poland and then across the world, are considered. The boundless optimism of the young people for the project is unreal, but somehow makes the book interesting. You know that everything will turn out well.

In the final chapter we have moved on ten years and the teacher has retired. He is invited to visit a cooperative colony in the mountains where by chance all his old pupils (now trained as doctors, cooperative administrators, etc) now live. We glance into this regimented but idyllic community of cooperative, polite and enthusiastic young people. Visitors from cooperatives Denmark, Italy and even Algeria are there. In this later edition of the book, it is emphasised that Esperanto is spoken for international communication. The last pages of this book, published just four years before Poland’s conflagration in the Second World War, express the forlorn hope that such a generation of young people will go on to build a world based on peace and cooperation.

This book is no Comintern tract. It is distinctly Polish with endless soft nationalistic references to Polishness and indirect praise for the Polish dictator Josef Pilsudski. The book espouses moral virtue, cooperation, collectivism and self-help. It is a wonderful portrait of the hopes of a forgotten age.

I picked up this book in the Esperanto bookshop in Budapest for some fifty eurocents. Its pages are yellow with age; and one thought – perhaps more interesting than the contents of the book itself – is the where the book has been, and the history it has seen, since its publication in Warsaw in 1935.

WOLSKI, Jan. Ĉu Ĝi Estas Nur Fabelo? Esperanta Eldono-Kooperativo en Varsovio 1935

The book was written in Esperanto. (La libro estas verkita esperantlingve.)


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