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Babel: A Review

I really wanted to post this earlier but due to my full support of the HarperCollins Union Strike opted not to as Kuang's novel is with HC.

Babel is a novel by R.F. Kuang that takes place in history with a bit of magic throne in. It is a scathing and enthrallingly lovely critique on colonialism, its influence and those who praise it.

Cover image of R.F. Kuang's novel Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence

Stars: 5/5

In all honesty, if it was possible to give this novel more than five stars would. It was like a breath of fresh air and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.

Babel follows the story of a young man we know by the name Robin Swift. One day, he is rescued from the plague that has taken his house in Canton by a foreign man and raised by him to learn languages, Greek and Latin. Why? All so that he can one day work at Babel, England's center of translation that benefits the empire and the empire only. For a while he feels honored to be a part of the prestigious community, the gilded walls, even if he faces harsh commentary due to his race. But then he meets someone who shows him Babel's underbelly, and we watch Robin as he takes his rose-colored glasses off and sees the world for what it truly is.

Robin is not alone. Babel is a prestigious community but there are three others in his cohort. Ramy, Victoire and Letty. And they share a bond that seems unbreakable yet Letty, the only white member of the group can't seem to understand the troubles (or maybe she refuses to) of her friends. We see Robin struggle with coming to terms with his identity, one he wanted to ignore, but when someone who looks strikingly similar to him comes along, he cannot. Robin, who despises conflict is thrust into the middle of it and wonders if he should throw his friends in as well. Ramy, who knows how to play the part so as to please whites and not be seen as a threat and Victoire, an enslaved young woman trying to prove herself. These remarkable characters go through trials, some mundane such as exams and others unthinkable. Yet, does it bring them closer? Or does it rip their micro-community apart?

Kuang does a splendid job when it comes to voice and detail. She gives us just enough to prick our interest and keep us turning the page. And I promise that you will until the book is finished and you're reeling from the emotions of everything you just read. At least, that is how I felt. There were twists and there were big reveals and there were times that I wanted to throw the book at the wall. (However, I was reading it on my phone and opted against it.) But those are all signs of a good book, are they not?

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I have determined to read everything she publishes after getting ahold of Babel.

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