Babel

Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution

560 pages

Published by Harper Voyager.

ISBN:
978-0-06-302142-6
Copied ISBN!
4 stars (20 reviews)

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal. 1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. Babel is the world's center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization. For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to …

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Review of 'Babel' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

fucked up how good this was. every single one of my interests was included. the characters are more fleshed out than jk rawlings wildest fantasies. i cannot become a productive member of society until i’ve finished processing this. i love u rf kuang this is one of the best books i’ve ever read ur a real one fs

Ends with a bang!

4 stars

What initially starts off as an imperfect blend of Tart's The Secret History and a low fantasy setting akin to Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell slowly shifts to its actual subject: colonialism. Seen through the lens, not of white saviours nor the faraway colonial subjects, but of it's unique product: people of both worlds, forcefully transplanted, with all the twisted allegiances that come with it. The last third act of the book explodes into a study about struggle and violence, the interwoven working of class and empire, in a way that is seldomly seen in (Western) fiction literature and for this fact alone this book deserves praise and commendation.

A postcolonial, antiracist Harry Potter

4 stars

Kuang's story surprises. This coming-of-age (and coming-of-revolution) story introduces us to a world where the the 19th-century Industrial Revolution is made possible not by steam and worker oppression but by the magical powers of translation and colonial exploitation. The experiences of the protagonist, a Cantonese boy that adopts the English name Robin Swift, lead us to an imagined Oxford that is as intriguing as Hogwarts but that has sins that Kuang not only does not whitewash, but makes the centerpiece of her novel. The historical notes and especially the etymological explanations are fascinating, if occasionally pedantic. Once you get your head around this world and how it works, you'll want to hang on to the end to see how a postcolonial critique during the height of the British Empire can possibly turn out.

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