Babel

Hardcover, 542 pages

English language

Published Aug. 23, 2022 by Harper Voyager.

ISBN:
978-0-06-302142-6
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Goodreads:
57945316

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4 stars (29 reviews)

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

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 …

14 editions

spoiler-free vague review + CWs for this book

5 stars

A long, heavy, beautifully written and very biting book about the ways in which colonialism coopts people and institutions, and the simultaneous difficulty and necessity of resisting that. Deeply and cleverly tied in with real 19th Century history of Britain and its empire, while also being a fantasy story with a very specific magic system that I enjoyed in itself.

I highly recommend this book, but it should also come with some content warnings: * Colonialism * Lots of depictions of racism * Abusive parenting * Abusive academia * Violence * Not afraid to kill important characters

#SFFBookClub

review of Babel

5 stars

i really enjoyed the read. i think, the book is in almost every aspect able to walk a middleroad between epic theatre and a "real" novel und it's story. the world building is just a sidestep away from the real events and the world in the mid 19th century. i did not read it as a fantasy novel with a smart magic system, but rather a historic novel in a setting auch style of magic realism. all the characters are clearly models of a specific world view and situation, but at least in my experience of the book, they are also able to induce sentiment. if you would ask me, it is the same effect, Eco and Brecht would likely achieve.

Review of 'Babel' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Honestly if I could give this book 6 stars, 8 stars, 10 stars, I would. It is a brilliant piece of alternate history with a fantastically inventive magic system and its message is incredibly relevant to the world today. A biting and merciless examination of colonialism which still manages to offer hope, but not a worthless, nebulous hope. This is a hope that requires will and sacrifice to back it up. An utterly brilliant book which I would encourage everyone to read.

Review of 'Babel : Or the Necessity of Violence' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

In early victorian England, foreign translators at Oxford try to take on the empire, which works on a translation-based kind of magic that involves silver bars. Many times, we think it's all over for our protagonists, and they receive a miraculous rescue, it's quite gutting. Until at the end, they don't.

I liked it, the magic is very clever, the parallels to our real world are there, although events have been altered. There's still an opium war, an abolitionist movement, English exceptionalism and disdain for others, all the loathsome things that make up British Empire.

Review of 'Babel : Or the Necessity of Violence' on 'Storygraph'

4 stars

At times the book seems to want the characters to be complex people, but most of the time they are more there to fill a more fable like role and teach us lessons, similarly for the world building. Either of these approaches could work well but done at the same time they undermine each other.

Review of 'Babel : Or the Necessity of Violence' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

This was on the list of books I went back and forth on reading. The concept sounded interesting, but, to be quite frank, it also sounded potentially boring. I'm glad I did go ahead and read it.

I won't argue that it isn't slow (it is), but it hits that lovely academia feel that I so loved in The Historian (and that made me at least start grad school. Grad school is not actually like this for most people, alas.), and I found the entirety of Babel and Oxford itself charming. I understood why the characters got so caught up in the world, and I can't say I wouldn't have done exactly the same.

My problems with the novel (and the reason why, despite devouring it rather quickly, it is not a five star for me and I actually debated on giving it a three) are mostly the last half. …

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Subjects

  • Fiction
  • Chinese
  • Imperialism
  • Magic
  • History
  • University of Oxford

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