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Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution

af R. F. Kuang

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
4,7071082,406 (4.03)147
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?… (mere)
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» Se også 147 omtaler

Engelsk (102)  Finsk (1)  Tysk (1)  Alle sprog (104)
Viser 1-5 af 104 (næste | vis alle)
3.5 stars!

Pretty dense and heavy handed as many reviewers have said in the past. Very academic tone, and definitely for linguistics nerds. It was hard to suspend belief because of this, and I couldn't really lose myself in the world, the 1830s setting, and the "magic". Definitely an interesting concept though, and I liked the characters. It's too bad this didn't end up being a series because the epilogue leaves a lot of interesting possibilities. ( )
  escapinginpaper | May 18, 2024 |
The only positive part of this experience was reading the novel on my Kindle instead of buying the printed book – imagine carting around 500 pages plus the massive chip on the author’s shoulder! The negatives are almost as long as the footnotes. This is a nasty, bitter, patronising and oh so American bloated exercise in ego; I’m too old for BookTok, but I should know from previous experience to avoid a ‘Sunday Times bestseller’.

The history in which the fantasy plot is grounded is interesting and still important, but the author reduces colonialism and the British Empire to ‘white men are evil, people of colour are victims’ and mercilessly beats the reader over the head with her simplistic and modern perspective. She leans on actual historical events to the point of lecturing but also picks and chooses what information to include – for example, omitting that the United States also traded opium in China and inferring that the drug was banned in England while the British were ‘forcing opium on the Chinese at gunpoint.' Her take on history is literally black and white, with no shades of grey and no nuance.

The characters are equally flimsy, and the narrative is merely the 12” remix of ‘CoLoNiSeR!’ comments on X or, more likely considering the demographic, Tumblr. Robin, the half-Chinese main character, is little more than a more than a Watson figure used by the author to expound on her tedious and repetitive attack on British history. Ramy is Indian, Victoire is Afro-Caribbean and Letty is the coloniser in their midst (‘Proud, proper Letty with her stiff upper lip represented everything Ramy disdained about the English’). All they have in common – apart from Letty – is not being English. To fit in with the dystopian YA fiction vibe that makes this book so popular on TikTok and Tumblr, however, we are told that they are a found family : ‘By the time they’d finished their tea, they were almost in love with each other – not quite yet, because true love took time and memories, but as close to love as first impressions could take them.’ In fact, the whole novel is a masterclass in tell, don’t show, or instruction over implication. The exposition is often more absorbing than the plot, especially the etymology, but for the most part, the writing is more like a Wikipedia article (which requires sources) than fiction.

The plot veers between Dark Academia and a distorted revision of history, set in the 1830s but from a modern perspective – until very recently, ‘coloniser’ was the word for the people who lived in the colonies, but Kuang uses the term in the negative to mean ‘evil white people’ (the ‘British’ (English) are almost literally moustache-twirling pantomime villains). The dialogue is equally anachronistic, like a retelling of The Secret History but with corsets and carriages. If Kuang was smarter than she thinks, there could have been an element of dark humour and pastiche (‘DRUGGY MCDRUGGY WANTS HIS THUMBS IN CHINA’), but the author takes herself way too seriously.

I did appreciate the fantasy element of turning silver bullion into silver bars with magical properties, imbued with the meaning of words that can be lost in translation between languages, but Kuang doesn’t give the fantasy element enough space in between all the historical browbeating. And I disagree with the linguistic message of Babel – language isn’t a national treasury to be plundered by invading countries; new words and meanings are both coined and ‘borrowed’ and that’s how vocabulary grows and evolves. I was piqued into research by some of the topics raised in Kuang’s novel (the First Opium War, for instance), but found the reality far more fascinating than her reductive interpretation. ‘If you find any other inconsistencies, feel free to remind yourself this is a work of fiction,’ the author snarks in her introduction, and true, in a work of fiction, you can play with dates and inventions and have useless postgrads saving the world from the ‘frightening web of the colonial empire’, but this is a poor work of fiction, with characters I didn’t believe in or care about, excessive ranting, and a plot that boiled over from the author’s grudge against Oxford into a reworking of Les Miserables. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | May 14, 2024 |
Kiehtova, fantasia-aineksilla maustettu vaihtoehtohistoria, joka käsittelee kolonialismia, imperialismia ja vastarinnan mahdollisuuksia. Lisäksi teoksessa kutkuttaa, miten jännittävästi siinä kuvataan kääntämistä ja lingvistiikkaa. Omaan makuuni teosta olisi voinut hieman lyhentää ja tiivistää, mutta tarina pitää yhtä kaikki otteessaan aina loppuratkaisuun asti. Tarinalle lienee tulossa jatkoa.
  TarjaRi | Apr 28, 2024 |
Fast in einem Rutsch durchgehört... Ganz großes Kino! ( )
  Katzenkindliest | Apr 23, 2024 |
" 'It's like I've known you forever...And that makes no sense, said Robin. 'I think', said Ramy, 'it's because when I speak, you listen...Because you're a good translator...That's just what translation is, I think. That's all that speaking is. Listening to the other and trying to see past your own biases to glimpse what they're trying to say. Showing yourself to the world, and hoping someone else understands.'" p. 535

The book has a creative and interesting premise...that the nuances of translation can cause a force that, run through silver, can create magical reactions. These reactions are used in the "silver industrial revolution". The silver lining of machines and roads and homes creates forces that make life in England more livable. This of course comes with a price. Colonialism, poverty, and war. Translators like Ramy and Robin are needed because the more foreign the language is from English, the more powerful the force that is generated.

"Language was just difference. A thousand different ways of seeing, of moving through the world. No; a thousand worlds within one. And translation- a necessary endeavor, however futile, to move between them. "p. 535

For the plot alone I wanted to give the book 5 stars. Unfortunately, long explanatory footnotes were distracting, even though they did explain the etymology of words. I just wish the editor could have encouraged the author to eliminate the footnotes and simply incorporate short etymological explanations within the narrative.

For the first 80% of the story, the book was hard to put down. Set in London, Oxford, and Canton, four classmates at Babel form a deep friendship. Eventually, the four friends become disillusioned.

"And Oxford at night was still so serene, still seemed like a place where they were safe...The lights that shone through arched windows still promised warmth, old books, and hot tea within. still suggested an idyllic scholar's life, where ideas were abstract entertainments that could be bandied about without consequences. But the dream was shattered. That dream had always been founded on a lie. None of them had ever stood a chance of truly belonging here, for Oxford wanted only one kind of scholar, the kind born and bred to cycle through posts of power it had created for itself. Everyone else it chewed up and discarded." p. 431

Their awakening to the true motives behind the University's endeavors leads them to turn to underground means to combat injustice.

"Violence shows them how much we're willing to give up...violence is the only language they understand because their system of extraction is inherently violent. Violence shocks the system. And the system cannot survive the shock." p. 397

Their choice to use extreme measures leads to an unexpected climax. The translators now must make momentous decisions, "to see Oxford broken down to its foundations, wanted its fat golden opulence to slough way..." p. 471 These decisions will hopefully change the history of the country, perhaps avoiding the Opium wars..." but who in living history even understands their part in the tapestry?" p. 537
After that, the last 100 pages were laborious. I won't give details because of spoilers, but several chapters could have been eliminated. The ending seems to indicate that a sequel is possible.
Three stars for a thought-provoking tale of dark academia, political intrigue, disillusionment, friendship, and betrayal. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Apr 11, 2024 |
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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?

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