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Babel, or Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution

❤❤❤❤❤ 5 out of 5

Title:               BABEL

Author:           R. F. Kuang

Publisher:        Harper Collins

Format:           ARC, audiobook, hardcover

Publication:     1th of September 2022

‘Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.’

Babel or Royal Institute of Translation is Oxford University’s prestigious faculty, where students from around the world train in translation and silver-work, which allows practising magic through words written on silver bars. Two words having the same meaning in different languages are used to manifest the specific effect. The art can only be performed by those fluent in both languages and aware of the whole meaning and etymology of used words, which is why translators are in constant demand. Babel, with the best scholars and an enormous library, is a world-renowned centre using the empire’s wealth to the full extent.

When Robin Swift enters Babel, he is amazed by the Institute’s magnitude. Orphaned at a young age, he was brought from Canton to London by Professor Lowell. After years of rigorous study in Chinese, Latin and Ancient Greek, he begins his journey as Babel’s student. Soon, he starts to understand the importance of knowledge Babel possess and its role in supporting the empire and the colonial expansion…

Babel is now, officially, my favourite book. It is ambitious, brilliant and surprisingly accessible. I was fully absorbed in the spellbinding world-building presented by Kuang. The world in this novel is similar to Victorian England, with the addition of the magical effects of silver-working. I loved the atmosphere of old streets, full libraries, books read by the fire, and the love for knowledge, books and words. I found the magic system based on the impossibility of perfect translation fascinating and unique. I also loved how the novel becomes involved in the history and politics of the period, touching on the crucial topics of imperialism, racism and the silver trade.

The most captivating elements of Babel are the complex characters that inhabit its pages. They all have their distinct personalities and backgrounds. Not only the main characters but even the professors and some older students seem very vivid and well-written. As Babel was the only Institute that accepted women and students from the Colonies, the issues of gender and race became an essential part of the plot. Kuang writes skillfully, leaving the reader emotional and engaged in the characters’ lives and all the inequalities or injustices their encounter.

I simply love this book, and I think I will always recommend it to everyone.


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