RF Kuang’s new book “Babel” ends the dark academic colonization

Babylon, or the Necessity of Violence: A Mysterious History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution It is a fictional elimination of nineteenth-century imperialism that is no less important than its title. RF Kuang has proven her knack for blending history and magic with her debut series, poppy warAnd it has done so again in this comprehensive novel that blends historical fiction and dark academia. So-called “dark academia” works like Donna Tartt Secret History The habit of exploring ethics within the framework of an academic institution. with BabylonKwang expands the genre even further, building a strain of political and academic corruption that asks us to question all we know about power, privilege, and knowledge.

The novel travels to a contemplative version in 1828 England, where a young Chinese orphan named Robin Swift – a name chosen at the insistence of his mentor – is flown from Canton to study at the prestigious Royal Institution of Translation in Oxford, known colloquially as “Babylon”. There, a select few would use their language skills to harness the chemistry that keeps England not only in a state of progress, but in a position of world domination. Here’s how the magic works: Translated words are engraved onto silver bars to produce miraculous results, like chariots that don’t need horses to power them, previously incurable diseases that can be cured instantly, and weapons that can destroy enemies on the other side of the world .

But this magic has a dark side, fueled by greed and imperialism. As the Western languages ​​began to homogenize, Babylon was forced to seek out and exploit indigenous speakers from the eastern lands in order to keep the magic flowing. However, as Robin later discovered, this resource flow is one-sided. England withholds this silver from other countries, storing it for themselves and its rich citizens, with dire consequences for the nations to which it is denied access. Kuang cleverly creates a world in which words act as a finite resource, such as oil or diamonds, that can be sold, stolen, depleted or captured.

Quang – who herself is a Chinese American and studied contemporary Chinese at Oxford – apparently wrote a love letter to Oxford and a declaration of war on it. The book is brimming with interest in higher education – for example, the generous use of didactic footnotes to explain scenes and descriptions. But Kwang is also not afraid to challenge the traditional image of academia as being essentially rich, white and elite. Robin’s chapter in Babylon includes Ramy, who is originally from Calcutta and bent on sparking change in Oxford, and Victoire, a black girl from France who wants to explore her Haitian roots. Both were brought to Babylon by white guides to exploit their knowledge of non-Western languages.

Despite their prowess, Robin, Rami, and Victoire are still seen as second-class citizens of Babylon because of their race. The trio are often forced to hide or twist in order to blend in with their fellow whites, who have cartoonish names such as “Vinci Woolcombe” and “Milton Saint Cloud”. At times, they encounter blatant racism, as when they pursue fellow students Robin and Rami shortly after arriving at Oxford, who refuse to believe that they, as people of color, belong on campus.

Despite this, Robin enjoys his time in the Foundation until he gets wind of the Hermes Society, a secretive group of current and former gossips who are trying to dismantle the Foundation from within. Hermes opens Robin’s eyes to how England built its empire on the backs of people considered “barbarians”. As Robin researches the origin of the English language (an important part of the magical process of Babylon), he begins to notice how many of its words have roots in other languages: coffee from Arabic coffeeAnd the taffeta from Persian faintAnd the gingham from malay genggang.‘Not only did English borrow words from other languages; it was stuffed to the brim…And Robin found it incredible, how this country, whose citizens pride themselves so much for being better than the rest of the world, could not have afternoon tea. without borrowing merchandise.” These discoveries torment Robin, who loves his comfortable life at Oxford but has come to despise the system that provides it. He is torn between staying silent to survive and responding, thus risking the life he has built.

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: A Mysterious History of the Oxford Interpreters’ Revolution

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: A Mysterious History of the Oxford Interpreters' Revolution

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: A Mysterious History of the Oxford Interpreters’ Revolution

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Babylon It’s a heavy book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun either. Kwang may challenge the dark academic type, but she clearly understands it well. There are whole pages devoted to captivating descriptions of the Oxford grounds and its vast libraries. The translation classes accounts are so detailed, you feel as if you are one of the enthusiastic students of the course. Kwang also sprinkles in the small-format historical references that bring a tremendous amount of color to the book, and assure that despite its fictional elements, Babylon deeply rooted in history.

“History is not a pre-made fabric that we have to suffer, a closed world with no way out. We can shape it. I make it.” Babylon Its events may have been fictional from time immemorial, but its implications for race, colonialism, language and power seem timely and relevant, leading us to reflect on the past in order to create a more equitable future. as if Babylon He suggests, the words contain magic, then Kuang wrote something charming.

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