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Babel cover art

Babel

By: R. F. Kuang
Narrated by: Chris Lew Kum Hoi,Billie Fulford-Brown
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Publisher's Summary

THE #2 SUNDAY TIMES AND #1 NYT BESTSELLER

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

Oxford, 1836.

The city of dreaming spires.

It is the centre of all knowledge and progress in the world.

And at its centre is Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation. The tower from which all the power of the Empire flows.

Orphaned in Canton and brought to England by a mysterious guardian, Babel seemed like paradise to Robin Swift.

Until it became a prison…

But can a student stand against an empire?

An incendiary novel from award-winning author R. F. Kuang about the power of language, the violence of colonialism, and the sacrifices of resistance.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2022 R.F. Kuang (P)2022 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

 "Kuang has crafted a masterpiece that resonates with power and knowledge. Babel is a stark picture of the cruelty of empire, a distillation of dark academia, and a riveting blend of fantasy and historical fiction – a monumental achievement, from the footnotes to the final page." (Samantha Shannon, author of Priory of The Orange Tree)

"Ambitious, sweeping and epic." (Evening Standard)

"An ingenious fantasy about empire’." (Guardian)

What listeners say about Babel

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Should be classified as a YA novel

If you’re an adult reader with any level of sophistication I would avoid this, or buy it for the precocious 10-12 year old in your life instead. This is firmly in YA fiction territory.

For an adult reader the morality is heavy handed, the characters are one dimensional, the fantasy is mundane, and the story is predictable and boring. There isn’t a single adult relationship described here. The way these characters think about the world, themselves and each other they could be 12 rather than 18-22.

This has been compared to both Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel and The Secret History. In my opinion it comes nowhere close to either. They have nothing in common beyond the most general themes: a fantasy set in Victorian England for the former; a group of friends at college studying something rare and arcane for the latter. The similarities end there.

This is a YA novel through and through. Nothing wrong with that, and plenty of adults enjoy those novels too. There’s good stuff here for sure, especially the writing on words, language, and translation, which is where the author really shines. I would enthusiastically recommend this book for a young reader.

But if you’re wanting something complex and compelling, a strange new world masterfully constructed, moral conundrums you’re barely aware of till they hit you in the gut, and characters who have sophisticated, realistic inner lives, then I would look elsewhere.

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7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

My fav book of all time

The last 200 pages were just...😭!!
I felt so seen and heard. I sympathised and empathised with many of the characters, especially Robin.
I learned so much and I love the time I spent reading this book because it was a beautiful record of what these people went through, even though, they were fictional.
This is my favourite book of all time. This is fiction at its finest. It captured a certain truth in fiction so well that it is almost real.
If I can give this book more stars, I would.
♾️⭐

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3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A good read with decent voice work

This is a tough one to rate, in many ways I throughly enjoyed it. The content is easy to follow and I generally enjoy stories with an element of magic / mystical that are grounded in reality. I also appreciate the passion for language and translation that shines through the story.

That said, i don’t know that I can recommend this book to everyone. It is at its heart a story about the effects of colonialism and associated politics and the people it harms. There are very few moments of joy in this story which might be appropriate for the context but isn’t usually something i’d expect from a book with such fascinating mysticism.

It feels like this was written more for the authors values than the reader’s entertainment, which isn’t a bad thing but not something I often seek.

Thanks for the history lesson.

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1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Best book of the year!

Could not recommend this more strongly! Narration was fantastic and the book itself is a masterpiece

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

ten hours in waiting for it to get going

She can write. But story is dragged out and out and out and out. We learn all about translation while we wait for a story that doesn't start. Didn't finish.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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exceptional

truly wonderful, fascinating, riveting storytelling. a scorching critique of corruption, colonialism, racism and capitalism. bravo.

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1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Great Concept - But Just Didn’t Do It For Me

I had such high expectations for this book due to the huge hype on Booktok, but alas it fell short of the mark for me. The magical element to the storyline was so flat that most of the time it didn’t feel as if I was reading fantasy fiction; but more of a history book on the Industrial Revolution and British Colonialism.

Even though the book is beautifully written to an excellent standard, there was nothing in the storyline that grabbed my attention and kept me enthralled and enraptured. I found the most interesting part in the storyline was in the last few chapters where everything came to a head… and then ending… left me frustrated and disappointed. 🙁

But on a positive note, I thought the performance by narrator Chris Lew Kum Hoi was extraordinary and definitely one of the best audio books performances I’ve listened to in a very long time, so a big BRAVO to you 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼!!!

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Great concept but VERY slow

The concept and message are fabulous but it was very slow. A solid edit to about half the length would have been great.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Brilliant

No review can do this book justice. It’s brilliant. Simply brilliant. I hope there is more in this setting to come.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating and Captivating!

This book it's a work of art! It deserves a standing ovation. It was entertainingly enlightening and thoroughly thought-provoking. Rebecca Kuang crafted this inspiring tale transporting you to a alternate history/universe version of Oxford. She brilliantly challenges colonialism and shines light on racism and micro aggressions. 

I love the magic woven into languages, it's new and very interesting. I am fascinated by the etymology explained throughout the book. As a linguist, I greatly enjoyed these features of the narrative. 

The story is fantastic and the characters are wonderful. The story telling captures the characters points of view and allowed me to feel the injustices they faced. 

This story works amazing as a stand alone, but I would be very interested in reading more. 

I listened to the audiobook version and the narration performance was excellent. I really appreciated that there was a second narrator for the footnotes. It helped pass the explanation without confusion. I also liked the native pronunciations for words and phrases in other languages, especially in Mandarin. 

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