Today, we will be reviewing Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang. It is a novel about colonialaztion, language and Oxford. Keep reading for a short summary and why you should read this amazing novel next!
The novel starts off in 1928 in Canton as Robin Swift is on the verge of dying. He is saved last minute by Professor Lovell. He offers Robin a chance to live with him in England and study until he enrolls in college. Robin learns Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese until he is old enough to enroll in Oxford University.
Six years later, Robin finally enrolls in Oxford and joins Babel, a prestigious Royal Institute of Translation. While at Babel, Robin is one of the few Chinese students and experiences racism from his fellow student. Robin goes on to befriend three other students that are also first years and they create a strong bond as they become immersed in the world of Babel. They learn about enchanting silver bars that are responsible for making Britain run as well as their vast military strength.
But not all is good as Robin learns how Babel uses the silver bars and who benefits. He is conflicted and scared and tries to live in both worlds at the same time. Robin also comes to face with his relationship with Lovell. Will Robin continue his journey to become a Translator for Babel or create his own path?
The novel was released in September 2022 and debuted at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction. It was well received and has made a bunch of end of year lists as well as Barack Obama’s best books of 2022. If Obama loved your book, then you made it!
Before I dive into my thoughts on the book, I have to say that long title is not it. Just name it Babel and call it a day. That is a good title, you don’t need to explain the book. That is what the summary is for. And everyone is going call it Babel which makes it pretty useless for the most part.
I loved this book and enjoyed learning about how words originated as well as Oxford. Kuang gives a lot of history lessons as well as diving deep into etymology. You will feel like a student reading this book at times! The plot is great, the characters are well written, and the world-building is slowly revealed and it doesn’t feel like too much.
The book is a long read but it is worth it once Kuang sets everything up. I was reminded of The Secret History by Donna Tartt without the sex and rituals. Kuang is an amazing writer that knows what she specializes in and maximizes its potential. While thinking back, I did think her characters could have had more depth.
Reviewing a book without spoiling it is not an easy task. Part of me wants to discuss the epic twist of a novel while the other half is excited for the people that do read it to come across that twist. It is easy to see why this novel is considered one of the best of the year. Happy reading!