R.F. Kuang, a Marshall scholar and Chinese-English translator, seamlessly weaves her scholarly expertise and passion for linguistics into her latest masterpiece, Babel. In this enthralling dark academia tale, Kuang skillfully delves into the captivating world of language and translation. Drawing from her own experiences as an Oxford graduate, she artfully transports us to an alternate version of Victorian Oxford University, where language and etymology breathe life into silver.
Oxford, 1836. The very epitome of knowledge and progress in the world. Nestled at its core lies Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation, serving as the tower from which the empire’s might emanates. For Robin Swift, orphaned in Canton and taken to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel initially appeared as a paradise, a beacon of hope. Yet, little did Robin know that paradise would soon morph into a stifling prison as he finds himself facing an empire of unimaginable power.
Babel is an ingenious novel that shines with its mesmerising exploration of language. With each lecture and exchange, Kuang's passion resonates, infusing the narrative with a vibrant energy that captivates the reader's imagination. The magic system woven into this literary tapestry is nothing short of brilliance. It unveils a revelation that transcends the confines of the story itself, delving into the very essence of languages and their intricate interactions. The ingenuity lies in how the magic system artfully reflects the perpetual dance of languages colliding, yet retaining their uniqueness. In Babel, silver gains its magical powers through the nuances that exist between the translations and etymological history of word pairs in different languages. Through the delicate interplay of words, Babel illustrates the immense significance of a world adorned with a kaleidoscope of diverse languages and cultures.
Another standout feature of Babel is its powerful exploration of colonialism and empire, a journey that follows Robin as he grapples with the harsh realities of resistance and the role of achieving decolonisation. Throughout the book, readers are drawn into the depths of Robin's complex emotions as he faces impossible decisions that reverberate with profound significance. Though fate swept him to Babel against his will, Robin discovers a sense of belonging within the tower's walls, where his insatiable thirst for knowledge finds nourishment. Yet, his work as a translator and silver-worker bears the weight of supporting British imperialism—an unsettling conflict that tugs at his conscience. The very essence of Britain's empire, we learn, thrives on the formidable power derived from the skillful use of silver. This precious metal, harnessed by Babel, is the lifeblood that sustains the dominion's dominance over vast territories.
Babel stands as R.F. Kuang's latest masterpiece. Intertwining language, history, and magic, readers will be spellbound until the very last page.