Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews

The Approximation of Meaning: Book Review – Babel by R.F. Kuang

I’ve been sitting at my desk for half an hour, staring at a blank Word page, surrounded by bits of scratch paper that contain hastily scribbled, half-formed thoughts; wracking my brain, typing and deleting in quick succession, attempting to figure out how on earth I was going to write this review.

I want to write it in a way that will do it justice, because I think this is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. 

I first bought Babel because, ever since I started studying Mandarin a year ago, I have been obsessed with authors and stories that give voice to the history, culture, and experiences of the Chinese people. When I learned that Babel’s author and its’ main character were Chinese, I immediately made my way to the nearest Waterstones to buy a special edition of the book, with its spray-painted edges and beautifully made cover. 

I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. The blurb was quite vague and didn’t give a lot of information about the plot, apart from the fact that the story was set in Oxford and is a reimagined history of the British Empire, with hints of magical realism involved. I was half afraid it was going to be another dark academia novel that was overly long and exceedingly pretentious (I’m looking at you Atlas Six), with entitled, self-involved characters that half the readers wouldn’t be able to relate to. 

The truth is probably quite the opposite. Babel is fundamentally a story about people who struggle with their place in this world, whose lives are driven by a desperate wish to be recognised as people, rather than as objects. It is without a doubt a commentary on the impact of colonialism, and the problematic issues of class and racial divide that comes along with it. 

I would love to be able to discuss these very important matters, especially in light of the current geopolitical climate, where countries are being affected by the actions of a mad tyrant, and where the world and its leaders are increasingly focused on what divides, rather than on what unites. However, I don’t feel like I can broach these subjects with any kind of credibility. I can’t even articulate my political views to myself, let alone to the 360-odd followers of this blog (only 5% of whom will actually read this post).

My book reviews have always been personal, and I always talk about the things that really resonated with me. And there is a specific moment in Babel that turned this from just another book that I would have forgotten about in a week, to a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Author:

Extraordinarily ordinary. Nurse. Teacher. Part-time traveller, full-time bookworm and music lover. I incorporate wishes, dreams and being a hopeless romantic with a sense of realism grounded on life experiences. I have yet to fully take off my rose-coloured glassed when it comes to life -despite occasional disappointments - and I prefer to keep it that way. I am in love with London, my adopted city. Every day is a new adventure, a chance to try something new. It has become such a part of who I am that I can't imagine living anywhere else. I am under the illusion that people will actually want to hear what I have to say and if it does turn out to be just an illusion, who cares? I want to put my thoughts out there for anyone to listen. I want to be heard because I have so much to say and I'm going to have fun doing it. I enjoy banter and a good back-and-forth. There is nothing more stimulating for me than an interesting conversation. So feel free to comment, express your opinions and let me know what you think. Let's get the world talking, one blabbaholic at a time.

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