R.F. Kuang, "Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution" (Harper Voyager, 2022)


In R. F. Kuang’s Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution (Harper Voyager in 2022), we meet Robin Swift. Orphaned by Cholera in Canton in 1828, he is brought to London by a mysterious Professor Lovell, who trains him in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, to prepare him for enrollment in Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. Yet as Robin soon finds out, the glamour and glory of Babel is not all it seems, and thriving at the center of knowledge and power demands complicity in the violence and militarism of empire….

Tune in to this NBN episode to hear Rebecca discuss what motivated her to write Babel, the inspiration behind Babel’s magical system of silver-working and the histories of anti-colonial struggle she wanted to illuminate in her writing, how real-life friendship inspired the friendships of Babel, the importance of sensitivity readers to imagining more diverse and complex characters, the joy of learning languages and the importance of collaboration to writing such a multilingual book, how her writing process has changed and grown since working on The Poppy War trilogy, the intersections and divergences between fiction and academic writing, and her current draft-in-progress on magician PhD students in Hell.

R. F. Kuang is author of The Poppy War trilogy and a PhD student in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University.

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a writer and data analyst based in New York City.

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Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Gayoung Lee is a PhD student in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University.
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