Babel : or the necessity of violence: an arcane history of the Oxford translators' revolution.

by Kuang, R. F.,

Format: Print Book 2022
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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 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 stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide...

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Kuang follows her award-winning Poppy War trilogy with an engaging fantasy about the magic of language. Her richly descriptive stand-alone novel about an ever-expanding, alternate-world empire powered by magically enhanced silver talismans scrutinizes linguistics, history, politics, and the social customs of Victorian-era Great Britain. Professor Richard Lovell, an expert in Asiatic languages, brings a young Chinese orphan home from Macau for the specific purpose of raising and training him to be a student at the Royal Institute of Translation, Oxford University's prized educational tower of Babel and storage vault for the largest supply of silver in the world. Although able to pass for white, Robin Swift comes to understand he will never be fully accepted into English society. But over time he becomes content with the comfortable life provided by the professor and his Oxford scholarship. Then one evening he stumbles across a group stealing from Babel--a group whose leader has a face exactly like his own. This encounter changes Robin as he learns of his own purpose in the insidiousness behind Babel and its ties to the expansionist designs of the British Empire. Fans of in-depth historical fantasy will be delighted with Kuang's latest."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Kuang (the Poppy War trilogy) underwhelms with a didactic, unsubtle take on dark academia and imperialism. After the unnamed protagonist's mother dies in 1830s Canton, he dubs himself Robin Swift at the urging of professor Richard Lovell, an Oxford sinologist who tutors Mandarin-speaking Robin to become a student at Babel, Oxford's Royal Institute of Translation. Robin falls in love with Oxford and his cohort: witty Calcutta-born Ramiz Rafi Mirza; secretive Haitian-born Victorie Desgraves; and self-righteous Brighton-born Letitia Price. Together they learn the magical process of capturing in silver the linguistic nuances lost in translation--and along the way uncover the process's ties to imperialism. This brilliant, ambitious concept falters in execution, reading more like a postcolonial social history than a proper novel. The narrative is frequently interrupted by lectures on why imperialism is bad, not trusting the reader or the plot itself enough to know that this message will be clear from the events as they unfold. Kuang assumes an audience that disagrees with her, and the result keeps readers who are already aware of the evils of racism and empire at arm's length. The characters, meanwhile, often feel dubiously motivated. Readers will be drawn in by the fascinating, linguistic magic system and righteous stance, but many will come away frustrated. Agent: Hannah Bowman, Liza Dawson Associates. (Aug.)"
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Additional Information
Subjects ordreq 08/02/2022 xa
Publisher Harper Voyager,2022
Description p. cm.
ISBN 9780063021426
Other Classic View