Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator' Revolution, or as we will call it for the remainder of this review. just Babel, was nothing short of extraordinary.
I am not the biggest fan of any book that deals a lot with political and social issues, or that is too long, or, when the books are meant to be a fantasy book it has minimal to no fantasy elements until close to the end. And yet, once I started reading this one it was impossible to stop.
Are you a lover of languages? There is no doubt in my mind that the author spent hours, days, months, if not years researching the many intricacies of languages and translation. I love the study of languages. I am fluent in two, understand somewhat two others, and have studied a dead language (ancient Greek) at university. So needless to say, I was geeking out with the author throughout the whole book. I honestly do not believe this book will suit everyone, if you are not a lover of languages you might find this book very slow and very hard to get into. I just thought it was fascinating.
About halfway through, the story picks us and a little more action starts to take place. A sequence of events you do not see coming starts to unfold and it never stops surprising you, breaking your heart, and exciting you.
Babel is told almost exclusive from the perspective of its main character, Robin Swift, a Chinese Immigrant in England in the 1800s. The Empire depends on the translations of immigrants, done on silver, to stay rich and keep on working smoothly. Immigrant kids are brought by English sponsors to study at Babel in Oxford and eventually become the translators needed around the country and the globe to keep England rich and prospering. Throughout the entire book Robin must come to terms with the inequality and unfairness of this. He was taken to Babel without a choice, his mother died and his sponsor (who also happens to be his father but never acts as such) brings him to England, gives him all the commodities he never asked for but has grown to enjoy and appreciate. As he gets older, he has to decide if his love for studying languages and the comfortable life he has gotten use to is enough. If he can truly ignore all the suffering and pain caused to others and to his motherland for the riches of the English. His close friends, also brought to the country at a young age, must decide the same.
Babel is passionate, heart breaking, and fascinating. But it is not a fantasy of dragons and slayers, assassins and magicians... it is a slow-paced magnificent work on languages, on the magic of translation, and as the title suggests, on the apparent necessity of Violence.