Nora’s Book Corner – Babel: Or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution Review

“That’s just what translation is, I think. That’s all speaking is. Listening to the other and trying to see past your own biases to glimpse what they’re trying to say. Showing yourself to the world, and hoping someone else understands.”

– R.F. Kuang, Babel: An Arcane History

Harper Voyager

R.F. Kuang writes a spellbinding, dark and immersive story in Babel: Or The Necessity Of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution. This novel is a standalone dark academia mixed with speculative fiction, history and fantasy set in the 1800s. It’s about the power of language and linguistics amidst a broken rooted empire that in-turn drives a student revolution. While reading, Kuang makes it feel like the reader is placed in an alternate reality of the world, especially with the magical integration of the silver-workings in terms of how Babel, located at the Royal Institute of Translation, continued to grow in wealth and knowledge while other class groups were simply forgotten. The use of silver is enchanting and plays a large part in the fantastical use of language and translation throughout the novel.

Kuang describes Babel as a love letter and breakup letter to Oxford, where she attended graduate school. This is not the typical genre of fantasy that I normally gravitate to, but I was pulled in by Kuang’s academic-focused (including detailed historical annotations) writing style. Before reading Babel, I read her Poppy War Trilogy: The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. I couldn’t get enough, I was so engrossed in the trilogy inspired by China’s twentieth century bloody history mixed with magic that really showcased the dark days of war-time. While reading Babel, it is evident that Kuang touched on real-life experiences of racism and degradation while at Oxford. This made the story much more emotional to me. It makes you think, how much has truly changed since the 1800s?

“History isn’t a premade tapestry that we’ve got to suffer a closed world with no exit. We can form it. Make it. We just have to choose to make it.”

– R.F. Kuang, Babel: An Arcane History

The main narrator in this book, Robin Swift is taught the importance of translation from a young age in order to become a student at the Royal Institute of Translation, Babel specifically. He meets three other students, Babblers (those who study at Babel) who struggle through their studies, but also realize that there are secrets brewing amongst Babel and Oxford that are worth investigating, in order to start a crucial, world-saving revolution. The power of language transforms and dominates the future, whether violence is necessary or not.

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

It’s Perfectly Okay to See Things Through Another’s Perspective: The Marvel Conundrum

Have we lost that loving feeling for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or Can we not see the universe through a female perspective? The recent reaction to the MCU kind of shows that as an audience, that over half of us cannot relate to the universe that we all once loved, but why is that? 

I know it’s been a minute since we wrote something here and thank you for being here to read this. This topic is important to us because 1)  We love seeing new characters being introduced to the MCU. 2)  We love seeing representation in our media and 3) Nora finally can relate to some of the superheroes outside of Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. 

While rewatching the first two phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we rarely see a strong female presence. Yes, we had Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger but we wouldn’t see the character return until Avengers Endgame.  (I know she got her own show, that lasted two seasons but sadly it’s rarely talked about) Pepper Potts unfortunately will always be linked to Tony Stark and it took a few films until Natasha Romanoff was not objectified and became a total badass. 

Now we have a MCU that is loaded with amazing female characters and a bias is starting to be shown. There has been a positive reaction from critics and hatred from certain aspects of the fan base. It all started with Captain Marvel, a lot of hate was aimed towards the film and main actors. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the film due to the storyline and lack of credible villain. The positives of the film was Brie Larson and introducing me to a character I knew little about. Fast forward to Black Widow in 2021, a fun film that was definitely entertaining but was told through a female perspective. We were introduced to a great character in Yelena Belova, yet fans felt the film was unnecessary. 

Now, let’s be honest with ourselves for a quick second, are any of these films necessary? 

Disney plus brought us Wandavision, Loki, Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and currently She-Hulk. Episodic stories to view weekly, yet even more criticism formed and we started to hear the term “M-she-U”. Hawkeye, Ms.Marvel, and She-Hulk have all done a tremendous job of establishing strong, powerful female characters with comedic undertones. So why the hate? I’ll never understand honestly, maybe we are scared of our idols becoming women, maybe we are scared for our male superheroes to be vulnerable. 

Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk do not deserve the hate they have received. In my opinion they are two of the best efforts from the MCU for episodic storytelling. It was recently reported that She-Hulk is scoring lower than Inhumans for audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is ridiculous. Think some of us forgot that She-Hulk is a sitcom and we need to lower our expectations. Most sitcoms lack direction and tell a story for laughs. Also just because one may be a male and cannot relate to the life of a female, does not mean the show is instantly bad. The story of Jennifer Walters being a petite lawyer that can turn into a Hulk is something that most of us cannot relate to to begin with. For example in the first episode, Jennifer tells her cousin Bruce that she has to restrain her anger everyday because as a female she feels different stressors than a man. This scene was criticized yet when talking about to it Nora, she related the most to this scene and instantly felt emotionally attached to what Jennifer had said. 

So while some are complaining about the direction of the MCU, others are feeling seen. Think about that, if you aren’t quite liking this Phase of the MCU and then reflect on what that truly means.