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BSFA Review: Babel by R.F. Kuang

01/06/2024 09:48 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Babel cover

Babel by R.F. Kuang

(HarperVoyager, 2022)

Reviewed by Kevan Manwaring

Babel is a dark academia novel by R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War trilogy, and a dazzling academic herself. A Marshall Scholar and Chinese-English translator, with an MPhil from Cambridge and an MSc from Oxford, she is now engaged in doctoral study at Yale. This (possibly) standalone novel concerns a talented young Cantonese boy who adopts the name Robin Swift. He is plucked from the deathbed of his mother amongst the slums of his homeland by a strict Oxford professor, who cultivates his ward’s gift with languages to the point when Swift is able to become a student of the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—the tallest building in the heart of an alternative Oxford. Here, the power of translation is used to activate silver bars which generate the qualities evoked by the ‘matching pairs’ of the translated languages: energy, wealth, control. These drive the dominance of the British Empire, growing fat and powerful via the exploitation of the resources, slave labour, and talent of their ‘subjects’ from the colonies and from other countries.

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Review from BSFA Review 23 - Download your copy here.


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