Hello! I hope you’re all having a wonderful week so far. It’s come to that time of the month again where I showcase my top reads from the previous month, and though I normally struggle to narrow down the books I’ve loved, July, and a certain book I read that month, have made it pretty easy. I read 9 books in July, and they were all hits, there was a little bit of romance, sci-fi and fantasy, but the book that really stood out to me was a historical fantasy set at Oxford University… I’m sure you can all guess what it was. I’m always afraid of books like this not living up to the hype, especially when I already love the authors work, but Babel took my expectations and just made it 20 times better than I had hoped for. You can check my full review out here, but for this post I will be posting a spotlight, as well as some of my top, non spoilery quotes (I pretty much highlighted the whole books so beware).
Babel by R.F. Kuang
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 enrol in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s centre of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonise everything it encounters.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairy tale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organisation dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
“Robin did not yet fully understand the rules of this world he was about to enter, but he understood the necessity of gratitude. Of deference. One did not spite one’s saviours.”
“English did not just borrow words from other languages; it was stuffed to the brim with foreign influences; a Frankenstein vernacular. And Robin found it incredible, how this country, whose citizens prided themselves on being so much better than the rest of the world, could not make it through an afternoon tea without borrowed goods.”
“And that was the heart of it all, wasn’t it? Robin had always been willing, in theory, to give only some things up for a revolution he halfway believed in. He was fine with resistance as long as it didn’t hurt him. And the contradiction was fine, as long as he didn’t think too hard about it, or look too closely. But spelled out like this, in such bleak terms, it seemed inarguable that far from being a revolutionary, Robin, in fact, had no convictions whatsoever,”
“I’m not a traitor,’ Robin pleaded. ‘I’m just trying to survive.’ ‘Survivals not that difficult, Birdie.’ Ramy’s eyes were very hard. ‘But you’ve got to maintain some dignity while you’re at it.”
“Power did not lie in the tip of a pen. Power did not work against it’s own interests. Power could only be brought to heel by acts of defiance it could not ignore. With brute, unflinching force. With violence.”
“She held grammar the way other women held grudges.”
“None of this came as a surprise, She was, after all, a woman scholar in a country whose word for madness derived from the word for a womb. It was infuriating. Her friends were always going on about the discrimination they faced as foreigners, but why didn’t anyone care that Oxford was equally cruel to women.”
“I suppose I just don’t like thinking of us as history when we haven’t even yet made a mark on the present.”