Kuang, R.F. Babel or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution. Harper Voyager, 08/2022. 560pp. Fiction. $27.99. 978-0-06-302142-6. GRADES 8 – Adult. OUTSTANDING.
In an 1829 where Britain’s empire spreads using magic and academic power to anchor its armed forces, protagonist Robin Swift begins his own voyage from his birthplace in Canton to the fabled world of Oxford. Brought to England by the strange and stern Dr. Lovell, Robin discovers that his native language is a valued commodity at the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, where he finds a community of other young people gathered from all over the Empire. But translation is a complicated process, and Robin learns that the power he and his peers are working with has a very sinister purpose, and that a secret society opposed to the Institute is trying to disrupt the greed and imperial expansion that drives England to greater efforts of subjugation and control worldwide. A magical, political examination of imperialism, labor movements, individual identity, and institutional racism, Babel is a tour-de-force filled with evocative description and deeply interesting exploration of language and violence, individual responsibility, and moral choice.
Lesley Mandros Bell—Unaffiliated