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

560 pages

Published Aug. 22, 2022 by Harper Voyager.


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5 stars (6 reviews)

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 …

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provoking, but in a good way

5 stars

I did feel like this violated the dictum "show don't tell" a bit too much, but it has interesting characters and a gripping plot to go with it's anti-colonialism message. Can be read as a straight forward critique of imperialism, but there are also interesting connections (or at least possible interpretations relating) to the role of technology and technology driven capitalism in contemporary society.

A magical alternative history of Oxford about the physical and cultural violence and slavery of empire and colonisation.

5 stars

Like #TedChiang's ‘Seventy Two Letters’, Babel is set in a fantastical alternative history of England during the Industrial Revolution. In Kuang's universe, the revolutionary tech is yínfúlù, silver talismans engraved with a word in one language and it's translation in another. When a bilingual utters the words, the subtle differences between their meanings are released by the silver, working magic on the physical world. “The power of the bar lies in words. More specifically, the stuff of language the words are incapable of expressing - the stuff that gets lost when we move between one language and another. The silver catches what's lost and manifests it into being.” Like in #UrsulaLeGuin's Earthsea, words have magical power, but also like Earthsea, the magic is taught to adepts in cloistered academies, in Kuang's case the Royal Institute of Translation. Translators are not only key to great leaps in productivity for British Industry, …

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