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

por R. F. Kuang

MembrosCríticasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
5,1271172,163 (4.01)160
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?… (mais)
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A treatise on translations; that’s what this book feels like and I especially enjoyed the story positing itself as an intellectual history. Translations drive this alternative historical world about the English empire, literally giving power to silver, which gives power to the empire—at the expense of the empire’s colonies. Oxford, where the translators and silver form the Tower of Babel, foreign-born students realize their calling is to the detriment of their homes, China, India, Haiti, etc. A student rebellion is born. The book dives deep into friendships—cohort Letty alone would be an excellent topic for a book club. The book also takes on economics (some of which I take issue with) and class warfare. What I didn’t like: how the plot went awry with a murder and then the ending. There was so much that could have happened and instead these plot points felt like an easy way out. I’m very glad to have read it. I wasn’t a big fan of the author’s Poppy War book one. I’m amazed the author can tell such different stories and unique world-building. I feel sometimes that fantasy authors can get in a rut even in different worlds. Not here. Quite an undertaking and done extremely well even if the Poppy War wasn’t in my genre. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Jul 15, 2024 |
Oh, this book. Concept is a cool alternate history in which British imperialism is supported through magical silverworking. I loved the beginning but I stopped loving it pretty quick. I feel like it had so much potential but it's simultaneously very self-important and not nearly as deep as she thinks it is - and she didn’t do as much with the world building as she should have. It also became so ham fisted in the second half. Like readers could not be trusted to learn "colonialism is bad" without being told via polemic "colonialism is bad." I wished for richer characters and richer world building. There was so much more to give. ( )
1 vote sparemethecensor | Jul 9, 2024 |
Points off for including 2 Swedish words in total where one was misspelt and the other was the wrong word. In a book about how important proper translation and spelling is, it's a bit odd.

Chapter 23: "Gökatta" is not a word. It's supposed to be "Gökotta" (o instead of a). It's a Swedish tradition where you get up early and watch birds in spring (Gök=cuckoo bird, otta=very early morning).

Chapter 24: "Sand" is a word, but it's the same as in english. It's the stuff at the beach and in the desert. What they were going for was "Sann/sant" which means true/truth. ( )
  Itaby | Jul 7, 2024 |
It strikes me as ironic that Kuang includes a long discussion on the etymology and use of the word 'polemic' in "Babel: An Arcane History" since the book is far more polemic than novel. More effort and text is given to diatribe against the evils of colonialism, exploitation, and white supremacy than character development or, frankly, the story itself. Certainly, the worldbuilding of this alternate nineteenth century is nearly as outstanding as the magic-system Kuang has created (which uses silver and word-cognates from different languages that translate imperfectly), and I would have loved to delve further into it, but it sadly exists only to form the structure of the imperium. Sadder is the fate of the characters: the main characters are wispy placeholders meant to say and do things when needful and the background characters are cartoonishly evil or menacing or helpful, again as needed. I kept reading in the hopes that I'd come to care about somebody or something but it never caught. I suppose that all the high praise this book has received marks a current vogue for reparation flagellation, but Dickens was able to eviscerate the British legal and social systems in "Bleak House" via rich characters and a compelling story.

Minor complains but all the more irritating were the anachronisms; Kuang goes to great lengths to portray Oxford in the 1830s but loses track of the times. No characters really speak in 1830s fashion (no educated Brit would say 'alums' rather than 'alumni' in 1940, let alone 1840) and bullets did not have metal casings in the day of muzzle-loading. Though I wanted to enjoy this and the author did try hard, immersion wasn't possible and the polemic turned into yammering. ( )
2 vote MLShaw | Jul 5, 2024 |
Didn't finish reading this. Got about 60% through, started skimming, & then gave up with about 80 pages left. The overall ideas were promising, & the story itself has a lot of potential - those are what pushed me to read as much as I did.

I really didn't like the author's writing style. I felt like I was being lectured at by someone who thinks I'm not able to pick up on subtlety or nuance. Small details with interesting implications would be immediately elaborated on so that it's impossible for the reader to miss the point. The use of foreshadowing practically gave away future events. The book would just ramble on & on without making much of a point. I honestly feel this book could've been half its length, if not reduced even further.

The tackling of colonialism, language, & their intersection was pretty surface-level. Going back to my points about writing style, I felt that these complex topics were simplified quite a bit - either not much interesting was said or the interesting stuff was just repeated over & over & over. I'm not white & I studied linguistics a bit in college, so I wasn't expecting to be getting much new. But even if this was not the case with me, I don't think I'd get much out of this book.

I generally thought the characters were fine. I thought that a character like Robin was a good fit for a story centered on colonialism & language. My main complaint is with Letty - there was so much wasted potential with her. There also wasn't much development of the four main characters' relationships - they were just suddenly friends. There were some hints to more, but they were barely brought up, to the point where it feels there was no effort to it. ( )
2 vote brp6kk | Jul 4, 2024 |
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By the time Professor Richard Lovell found his way through Canton's narrow alleys to the faded address in his diary, the boy was the only one in the house left alive.
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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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