Babel by Rebecca Kuang
Gosh. 542 pages later & I’m trying to coerce my thoughts into a caption to do this justice. Massively hyped online, it’s entered bestseller lists last week on both sides of the pond. Honestly, I was ready to be unimpressed.
Well this is my formal apology to friends at @harpervoyager_uk and to @kuangrf because it’s phenomenal. Intensely scholarly, this was far more intelligent and literary than I expected, I could feel my brain expanding as I turned the pages.
Set in 1830’s Oxford, Babel explores the power of language, how the etymology of classical texts & words links us all, the evils of colonialism & racism, the patriarchal, xenophobia restricting academic growth & the exploitative, violent side of trade and finance. All with a sinister, magical twist.
Robin Swift is rescued from plague ridden Canton & strictly brought up in the confines of a Hampstead estate, sent to Oxford by his enigmatic guardian. Babel, a biblical nod if ever there was, is the centre of translation, the beating heart of the Empire and source of magic that imbues silver with the ability to transform & enhance. This tower of learning, with its wealth & status, becomes a prison both of the mind and body.
This is so much more than dark academia fantasy. The author is a scholar flexing her intellectual muscles, suffusing the text with references to so many elements of language, philosophy & politics that it should almost be submitted as a doctorate. Yet the characters and sense of place are evoked beautifully, their pain at being the outsiders, their complex relationship with the “saviours” beautifully created.
The pace quickens in the last third to a heartbreaking crescendo that makes you appreciate the time taken, I would urge any reader to persevere. I loved the regular footnotes (which again added to the academic, university feel of the reading experience). This left my head spinning. C
Ad:PR Copy Thank you so much @natashabardon
Order your copy here.