Babel (2022, HarperCollins Publishers) 5 stars

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History …

My favorite book of 2022

5 stars

Babel was my favorite book in 2022. It's technically a fantasy, because it's both alternate history in a world with magic, but it touches on so many real-world issues that it's an unusual fantasy. Babel takes places in the early 1800s and an elite group of translators can use silver bars to create magical enchantments that do all sorts of things: heal illness, help with construction projects, and so much more. The translators are trained at a special college at Oxford called the Babel (after the Tower of Babel). The story focuses on four students who are studying at the prestigious school. One young man is from China and one from India. The other two students are women, one from Haiti and one from England. Woven throughout the story of why they were chosen to study at Babel and what their experiences are like are issues of colonialism, racism, misogyny, and classism. There is a great deal of real-world history woven throughout the story, especially issues going on in China and England at the height of the British Empire. The world building of the fantastical elements of this world are original and well done. The characters are complex, flawed, and seem real. Their experiences and the themes of the book made me think not only of the story itself, but of how the issues in the book played out in our world. The book is technically 682 pages long, but the author includes a whole bunch of endnotes about topics in the book, such as further describing real-world events. The actual story is 554 pages long. This is a book I thought about long after I finished reading it.