It should have been distressing

This is a quote from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Quote by R.F. Kuang, “It should have been distressing. In truth, though, Robin found it was actually quite easy to put up with any degree of social unrest, as long as one got used to looking away.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Babel – Summary

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

So desperately lonely

This is a quote from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Quote by R.F. Kuang, “He could have cried then. He’d been so desperately lonely, and had only now realized it, and now he wasn’t, and this felt so good he didn’t know what to do with himself.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

It was all worth it

Excerpt from Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Photo by Simon Haslett on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Next, Professor Playfair gathered them around and empty worktable for a demonstration. ‘Now, the common man thinks that silver-working is equivalent to sorcery.’ He rolled his sleeves up to his elbows as he spoke, shouting so they could hear him over the din. ‘They think that the power of the bars lies in the silver itself, that silver is some inherently magical substance which contains the power to alter the world.’

He unlocked the left drawer and pulled out a blank silver bar. ‘They’re not wholly wrong. There is indeed something special about silver that makes it an ideal vehicle for what we do. I like to think that it was blessed by the gods – it’s refined with mercury, after all, and Mercury is the messenger god, no? Mercury, Hermes. Does silver not then have an inextricable link to hermeneutics? But let’s not get too romantic. No, the power of the bar lies in words. More specifically, the stuff of language that 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.’

He glanced up, took in their baffled faces. ‘You have questions. Don’t worry. You won’t start working with silver until near the end of your third year. You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on the relevant theory before then. What matters now is that you understand the magnitude of what we do here.’ He reached for an engraving pen. ‘Which is, of course, the casting of spells.’

He began carving a word into one end of the bar. ‘I’m just showing you a simple one. The effect will be quite subtle, but see if you feel it.’

He finished writing on that end, then held it up to show them. ‘Heimlich. German for the secret and clandestine, which is how I’ll translate it to English. But heimlich means more than just secrets. We derive heimlich from a Proto-Germanic word that means “home”. Put together this constellation of meaning, and what do you get? something like the secret, private feeling you get from being somewhere you belong, secluded from the outside world.’

As he spoke, he wrote the word clandestine on the flip side of the bar. The moment he finished, the silver began to vibrate.

Heimlich,’ he said. ‘Clandestine.’

Once again Robin heard a singing without a source, an inhuman voice from nowhere.

The world shifted. Something bound them – some intangible barrier blurred the air around them, drowned out the surrounding noise, made it feel as though they were the only ones on a floor they knew was crowded with scholars. They were safe here. They were alone. This was their tower, their refuge.

They were no strangers to this magic. They had all seen silver-work in effect before; in England it was impossible to avoid. But it was one thing to know the bars could work, that silver-work was simply the foundation of a functioning, advanced society. It was another thing to witness with their own eyes the warping of reality, the way words seized what no words could describe and invoked a physical effect that should not be.

Victoire had her hand to her mouth. Letty was breathing hard. Ramy blinked very rapidly, as if trying to hold back tears.

And Robin, watching the still quivering bar, saw clearly now that it was all worth it. The loneliness, the beatings, the long and aching hours of study, the ingesting of languages like bitter tonic so that he could one day do this – it was all worth it.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

They were almost in love

This is a quote from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Quote by R.F. Kuang, “By the time they’d finished their tea, they were almost in love with each other – not quite yet, because true love took time and memories, but as close to love as first impressions could take them. … But that afternoon they could see with certainty the kind of friends they would be, and loving that vision was close enough.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here and here.

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

To carry across

Excerpt from Babel by R.F. Kuang

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Professor Playfair’s introductory class to Translation Theory met at Tuesday mornings on the fifth floor of the tower. They’d barely been seated when he began to lecture, filling the narrow classroom with his booming showman’s voice.

‘By now you are each passably fluent in at least three languages, which is a feat in its own right. Today, however, I will try to impress upon you the unique difficulty of translation. Consider how tricky it is merely to say the word hello. Hello seems so easy! Bonjour. Ciao. Hallo. And on and on. But then say we are translating from Italian into English. In Italian, ciao can be used upon greeting or upon parting – it does not specify either, it simply marks etiquette at the point of contact. It is derived from the Venetian s-ciào vostro, meaning something akin to “your obedient servant”. But I digress. The point is, when we bring ciao into English – if we are translating a scene where the characters disperse, for example – we must impose that ciao has been said as goodbye. Sometimes this is obvious from context, but sometimes not – sometimes we must add new words in our translation. So already things are complicated, and we haven’t moved past hello.

‘The first lesson any good translator internalizes is that there exists no one-to-one correlation between words or even concepts from one language to another. The Swiss philologist Johann Breitinger, who claimed that languages were merely “collections of totally equivalent words and locutions which are interchangeable, and which fully correspond to each other in meaning”, was dreadfully wrong. Language is not like maths. And even maths differs depending on the language – but we will revisit that later.’

Robin found himself searching Professor Playfair’s face as he spoke. He was not sure what he was looking for. Some evidence of evil, perhaps. The cruel, selfish, lurking monster Griffin had sketched. But Professor Playfair seemed only a cheerful, beaming scholar, enamoured by the beauty of words. Indeed, in daylight, in the classroom, his brother’s grand conspiracies felt quite ridiculous.

‘Language does not exist as a nomenclature for a set of universal concepts,’ Professor Playfair went on. ‘If it did, then translation would not be a highly skilled profession – we would simply sit a class full of dewy-eyed freshers down with dictionaries and have the completed works of the buddha on our shelves in no time. Instead, we have to learn to dance between that age-old dichotomy, helpfully eludciated by Cicero and Hieronymus: verbun e verbo and sensum e sensu. Can anyone—’

‘Word for word,’ Letty said promptly. ‘And sense for sense.’

‘Good,’ said Professor Playfair. ‘That is the dilemma. Do we take words as our unit of translation, or do we subordinate accuracy of individual words to the overall spirit of the text?’

‘I don’t understand,’ said Letty. ‘Shouldn’t a faithful translation of individual words produce an equally faithful text?’

‘It would,’ said Professor Playfair, ‘if, again, words existed in relation to each other in the same way in every language. But they do not. The words schlecht and schlimm both mean “bad” in German, but how do you know when to use one or the other? When do we use fleuve or rivière in French? How do we render the French esprit into English? We ought not merely translate each word on its own, but must rather evoke the sense of how they fit the whole of the passage. But how can that be done, if languages are indeed so different? These differences aren’t trivial, mind you – Erasmus wrote and entire treatise on why he rendered the Greek logos into the Latin sermo in his translation of the New Testament. Translating word-for-word is simply inadequate.

That servile path thou nobly dost decline,’ Ramy recited, ‘of tracing word by word, and line by line.’

Those are the laboured births of slavish brains, not the effect of poetry, but pains,’ Professor Playfiar finished. ‘John Denham. Very nice, Mr Mirza. So you see, translators do not so much deliver a message as they rewrite the original. And herein lies the difficulty – rewriting is still writing, and writing always reflects the author’s ideology and biases. After all, the Latin translatio means “to carry across”. Translation involves a spatial dimension – a literal transportation of text across conquered territory, words delivered like spices from an alien land. Words mean something quite different when they journey from the palaces of Rome to the tearooms of today’s Britain.

‘And we have not yet moved past the lexical. If translation were only a matter of finding the right themes, the right general ideas, then theoretically we could eventually make our meaning clear, couldn’t we? But something gets in the way – syntax, grammar, morphology and orthography, all the things that form the bones of a language. Consider the Heinrich Heine poem “Ein Fichtenbaum.” It’s short, and its message is quite easy to grasp. A pine tree, longing for a palm tree, represents a man’s desire for a woman. Yet translating it into English has been devilishly tricky, because English doesn’t have genders like German does. So there’s no way to convey the binary opposition between the masculine ein Fichtenbaum and the feminine einer Palme. You see? So we must proceed from the starting assumption that distortion is inevitable. The question is how to distort with deliberation.’

He tapped the book lying on his desk. ‘You’ve all finished Tytler, yes?’

They nodded. They’d been assigned the introductory chapter of Essays on Principles of Translation by Lord Alexander Fraser Tytler Woodhouselee the night before.

‘Then you’ll have read that Tytler recommends three basic principles. Which are – yes, Miss Desgraves?’

‘First, that the translation conveys a complete and accurate idea of the original,’ said Victoire. ‘Second, that the translation mirrors the style and manner of writing of the original. And third, that the translation should read with all the ease of the original composition.’

She spoke with such confident precision, Robin thought she must have been reading from the text. He was very impressed when he glanced over and saw her consulting nothing but blank space. Ramy, too, had this talent for perfect recall – Robin was beginning to feel a bit intimidated by his cohort.

‘Very good,’ said Professor Playfair. ‘This sounds basic enough. But what do we mean by the “style and manner” of the original? What does it mean for a composition to read “easily”? What audience do we have in mind when we make these claims? These are the questions we will tackle this term, and such fascinating questions they are.’ He clasped his hands together. ‘Allow me again to descend into theatrics by discussing our namesake, Babel – yes dear students, I can’t quite escape the romanticism of this institution. Indulge me, please.’

His tone conveyed no regret at all. Professor Playfair loved this dramatic mysticism, these monologues that must have been rehearsed and perfected over years of teaching. But no one complained. They loved it too.

‘It is often argued that the greatest tragedy of the Old Testament was not man’s exile from the Garden of Eden, but the fall of the Tower of Babel. For Adam and Eve, though cast from grace, could still speak and comprehend the language of angels. But when men in their hubris decided to build a path to heave, God confounded their understanding. He divided and confused them and scattered them about the face of the earth.

‘What was lost at Babel was not merely human unity, but the original language – something primordial and innate, perfectly understandable and lacking nothing in form or content. Biblical scholars call it the Adamic language. Some think it is Hebrew. Some thing it is a real but ancient language that has been lost to time. Some think it is a new, artificial language that we ought to invent. Some thing French fulfils this role; some think English, once it’s finished robbing and morphing, might.’

‘Oh, no, this is easy,’ said Ramy. ‘It’s Syriac.’

‘Very funny, Mr Mirza.’ Robin did not know if Ramy was indeed joking, but no one else made a comment. Professor Playfair ploughed ahead. ‘For me, however, it matters not what the Adamic language was, for it’s clear we have lost any access to it. We will never speak the divine language. But by amassing all the world’s languages under this roof, by collecting the full range of human expressions, or as near to it as we can get, we can try. We will never touch heaven from this mortal place, but our confusion is not infinite. We can, through perfecting the arts of translation, achieve what humanity lost at Babel.’ Professor Playfair sighed, moved by his own performance. Robin thought he saw actually tears form in the corners of his eyes.

‘Magic.’ Professor Playfair pressed a hand against his chest. ‘What we are doing is magic. It won’t always feel that way – indeed, when you do tonight’s exercise, it’ll feel more like folding laundry than chasing the ephemeral. But never forget the audacity of what you are attempting. Never forget that you are defying a curse laid by God.’

Robin raised his hand. ‘Do you mean, then, that our purpose here is to bring mankind closer together as well?’

Professor Playfair cocked his head. ‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I only…’ Robin faltered. It sounded silly as he said it, a child’s fancy, not a serious scholarly query. Letty and Victoire were frowning at him; even Ramy was wrinkling his nose. Robin tried again – he knew what he meant to ask, only he couldn’t think of an elegant or subtle way to phrase it. ‘Well – since in the Bible, God split mankind apart. And I wonder if – if the purpose of translation, then is to bring mankind back together. If we translate to – I don’t know, bring about that paradise again, on earth, between nations.’

Professor Playfair looked baffled by this. But quickly his features reassembled into a sprightly beam. ‘Well, of course. Such is the project of empire – and why, therefore, we translate at the pleasure of the Crown.’

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Five books worth the hype

Have you gotten caught up in the booktok or booktuber worlds?

Do you wonder which books are really worth the hype from the book influencers?

I’ve gotten back into reading a lot in the past few years. I’ve always loved reading, but haven’t always made it a priority. And I have to admit that book influencers have definitely helped me fall back in love with reading.

I love that so many people are reading more and starting conversations about books. I love how much more mainstream reading has become and that people are able to craft careers around talking about books. I think it’s a lovely gift that social media has given us.

But that being said, there are a lot of books that get hyped up but may not live up to the hype, or may not be our personal taste.

I’ve put together some of the big books that I believe are genuinely worth the hype.

Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

Five books worth the booktok hype

Here’s a list of five books from booktok that I believe are worth the hype.

  1. Babel by R.F. Kuang
  2. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin\
  3. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  4. Upstream by Mary Oliver
  5. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve order them from newest to oldest by publication date.

Babel (2022)

by R.F. Kuang

  • Year Published: 2022
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, fantasy, historical, literary, challenging, dark, emotional, medium-paced
  • Talks about the difficulties and nuances of translating literature

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Links:

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022)

by Gabrielle Zevin

  • Year Published: 2022
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Important to note, there have been some criticisms of how the author portrays a physical disability and uses it during the story.

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Links:

Piranesi (2020)

by Susanna Clarke

  • Year Published: 2020
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, literary, adventurous, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

Links:

Upstream (2016)

by Mary Oliver

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, essays, literary, nature, inspiring, reflective, relaxing, slow-paced

Comprising a selection of essays, Upstream finds beloved poet Mary Oliver reflecting on her astonishment and admiration for the natural world and the craft of writing.

As she contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, finding solace and safety within the woods, and the joyful and rhythmic beating of wings, Oliver intimately shares with her readers her quiet discoveries, boundless curiosity, and exuberance for the grandeur of our world.

This radiant collection of her work, with some pieces published here for the first time, reaffirms Oliver as a passionate and prolific observer whose thoughtful meditations on spiders, writing a poem, blue fin tuna, and Ralph Waldo Emerson inspire us all to discover wonder and awe in life’s smallest corners.

Links:

The Song of Achilles (2011)

by Madeline Miller

  • Year Published: 2011
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, lgbtqia+, literary, adventurous, emotional, sad, medium-paced
  • Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize (now The Women’s Prize for Fiction)

Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which booktok/booktube books you think are worth the hype. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Languages are more than just words

This is a quote from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Quote by R.F. Kuang, “Languages aren’t just made of words. They’re modes of looking at the world. They’re the keys to civilization. And that’s knowledge worth killing for.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Formed into kindred spirits

Excerpt from Babel by R.F. Kuang

Photo by Liv Cashman on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Babel by R.F. Kuang.

Robin’s lodgings were in Number 4, Magpie Lane – a green-painted building halfway down the crooked, narrow alley that connected High Street and Merton Street. Someone else was already standing at the front door, fiddling with the lock. He had to be a new student – satchels and trunks were scattered on the cobblestones around him.

He was, Robin saw as he drew closer, very clearly not native to England. South Asia was more likely. Robin had seen sailors with the same colouring in Canton, all from ships arriving from India. The stranger had smooth dusky skin, a tall and graceful build, and the longest, darkest eyelashes that Robin had ever seen. His eyes flickered up and down Robin’s frame before settling on his face, questioning – determining, Robin Suspected, just how foreign Robin was in return.

‘I’m Robin,’ Robin burst out. ‘Robin Swift.’

‘Ramiz Rafi Mirza,’ the other boy pronounced proudly, extending his hand. He spoke with such proper English diction he sounded nearly like Professor Lovell. ‘Or just Ramy, if you like. And you – you’re here for the Translation Institute, aren’t you?’

‘I am,’ said Robin, then added, on a hunch, ‘I’m from Canton.’

Ramy’s face relaxed. ‘Calcutta.’

‘Did you just get in?’

‘To Oxford, yes. To England, no – I came in through Liverpool on a ship four years ago and I’ve been holed up in a big, boring estate in Yorkshire until now. My guardian wanted me to acclimatize to English society before I matriculated.’

‘Mine too,’ Robin said eagerly. ‘What did you think?’

‘Awful weather.’ One side of Ramy’s mouth quirked up. ‘And the only thing I can eat here is fish.’

They beamed at each other.

Robin felt a strange, bursting feeling in his chest then. He’d never met someone else in his situation, or anything like it, and he strongly suspected that should he keep probing, he would uncover a dozen more similarities. He had a thousand questions, but he didn’t know where to start. Was Ramy also orphaned? Who was his sponsor? What was Calcutta like? Had he been back since? What brought him to Oxford? He was suddenly anxious – he felt his tongue stiffen, unable to choose a word – and there was also the matter of the keys, and their scattered trunks, which made the alley look as if a hurricane had emptied a ship’s hold onto the street—

‘Should we—’ Robin managed, just as Ramy asked, ‘Shall we open that door?’

They both laughed. Ramy smiled. ‘Let’s drag these inside.’ He nudged a trunk with his toe. ‘Then I’ve got a box of very nice sweets which I think we should open, yes?’

Their quarters were across the hall from one another – rooms six and seven. Each unit consisted of a large bedroom and a sitting room equipped with a low table, empty bookshelves, and a couch. The couch and table both seemed too formal, so they sat cross-legged on the floor of Ramy’s room, blinking like shy children as they regarded each other, unsure what to do with their hands.

Ramy pulled a colourfully wrapped parcel from one of his trunks and set it on the floor between them. ‘Sending-off gift from Sir Horace Wilson, my guardian. He gave me a bottle of port, too, but I threw that away. What would you like?’ Ramy ripped the parcel open. ‘There’s toffee, caramel, peanut brittle, chocolates, and all kinds of candied fruits…’

‘Oh, goodness – I’ll have some toffee, thank you.’ Robin hadn’t spoken to another person near his age in as long as he could remember. He was only now realizing how badly he wanted a friend, but he didn’t know how to make one, and the prospect of trying but failing suddenly terrified him. What if Ramy found him dull? Annoying? Oversolicitous?

He took a bite of toffee, swallowed, and placed his hands in his lap.

‘So,’ he said. ‘Tell me about Calcutta?’

Robin grinned.

In the years to come, Robin would return so many times to this night. He was forever astonished by its mysterious alchemy, by how easily two badly socialized, restrictively raised strangers had transformed into kindred spirits in the span of minutes. Ramy seemed just as flushed and excited as Robin felt. They talked and talked. No topics seemed taboo; everything they brought up was either a point of instant agreement – scones are better without sultanas, thank you – or a cause for fascinating debate – no, London’s lovely, actually; you country mice are just prejudiced because you’re jealous. Only don’t swim in the Thames.

At some point they began reciting poems to each other – lovely chains of Urdu couplets Ramy told him were called ghazals, and Tang poetry which Robin frankly didn’t love but which sounded impressive. And he so badly wanted to impress Ramy. He was so witty, so well-read and funny. He had sharp, scathing opinions on everything – British cuisine, British manners, and the Oxbridge rivalry (’Oxford is larger than Cambridge, but Cambridge is prettier, and anyhow I think they only established Cambridge as overflow for the mediocre talent.’) He’d travelled half the world; he’d been to Lucknow, Madras, Lisbon, Paris, and Madrid. He described his native India as a paradise: ‘The mangoes, Birdie’ (he’d already started calling Robin ‘Birdie’), ‘they’re ridiculously juicy, you can’t buy anything similar on this sorry little island. It’s been years since I’ve had one. I’d give anything to see a proper Bengal mango.’

‘I’ve read Arabian Nights,’ Robin offered, drunk on excitement and trying to seem worldly as well.

‘Calcutta’s not in the Arab world, Birdie.’

‘I know.’ Robin blushed. ‘I just meant—’

But Ramy had already moved on. ‘You didn’t tell me you read Arabic!’

‘I don’t, I read it in translation.’

Ramy sighed. ‘Whose?’

Robin tried hard to remember. ‘Jonathan Scott’s?’

‘That’s a terrible translation.’ Ramy waved his arm. ‘Throw it away. For one thing, it’s not even a direct translation – it went into French first, and then English – and for another, it’s not remotely like the original. What’s more, Galland – Antoine Galland, the French translator – did his very best to Frenchify the dialogue and to erase all cultural details he thought would confuse the reader. He translates Haroun Alraschid’s concubines as dames ses favourites. Favourite ladies. How do you get “favourite ladies” from “concubines”? And he entirely cuts out some of the more erotic passages, and injects cultural explanations whenever he feels like it – tell me, how would you like to read an epic with a doddering Frenchman breathing down your neck at all the raunchy bits?’

He could have cried then. He’d been so desperately lonely, and had only now realized it, and now he wasn’t, and this felt so good he didn’t know what to do with himself.

When at last they grew too sleepy to finish their sentences, the sweets were half-gone and Ramy’s floor was littered with wrappers. Yawning, they waved each other good night. Robin tripped back to his own quarters, swung the door shut, then turned around to face his empty rooms. This was his home for the next four years – the bed under the low, sloping ceiling where he would wake every morning, the leaking tap over the sink where he would wash his face, and the desk in the corner that he would hunch over every evening, scribbling by candlelight until wax dripped onto the floorboards.

For the first time since he’d arrived at Oxford, it struck him that he was to make a life here. He imagined it stretched out before him: the gradual accumulation of books and trinkets in those spare bookshelves; the wear and tear of those crisp new linen shirts still packed in his trunks, the change of seasons seen and heard through the wind-rattled window above his bed that wouldn’t quite shut. And Ramy, right across the hall.

This wouldn’t be so bad.

The bed was unmade, but he was too tired now to fiddle with the sheets or search for covers, so he curled up on his side and pulled his coat over him. In a very short while he was fast asleep and smiling.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Babel – Summary

Here is the book summary:

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. The tower and its students are 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 the arcane craft 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 stopping 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?

Copyright © 2022 by R.F. Kuang.

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.