Babel : Or the Necessity of Violence

An Arcane History of The Oxford Translators' Revolution

Hardcover, 560 pages

Published Aug. 23, 2022 by Harper Voyager.

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5 stars (4 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.

  1. 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 …

4 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



5 stars

Content warning I don't think I can review this without some vague spoilers

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.

A magical alternative history of Oxford about the physical and cultural violence and slavery of empire and colonisation.

5 stars

Like #TedChiang's ‘Seventy Two Letters’, Babel is set in a fantastical alternative history of England during the Industrial Revolution. In Kuang's universe, the revolutionary tech is yínfúlù, silver talismans engraved with a word in one language and it's translation in another. When a bilingual utters the words, the subtle differences between their meanings are released by the silver, working magic on the physical world. “The power of the bar lies in words. More specifically, the stuff of language the words are incapable of expressing - the stuff that gets lost when we move between one language and another. The silver catches what's lost and manifests it into being.” Like in #UrsulaLeGuin's Earthsea, words have magical power, but also like Earthsea, the magic is taught to adepts in cloistered academies, in Kuang's case the Royal Institute of Translation. Translators are not only key to great leaps in productivity for British Industry, …