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Check It Out: Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang

This is Ben Bemus with the Sioux City Public Library, and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today I am recommending Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang, one of twelve books featured in this year’s Adult Summer Reading program.

Robin Swift, an orphaned Cantonese boy, is brought to London by a British professor and taught a variety of languages in preparation for his eventual entrance into Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation, otherwise known as Babel. The school holds enormous importance for the British Empire due to an Industrial Revolution launched by silver-working, an art through which silver bars are imbued with magic produced by the subtle meanings that get lost when a word is translated from one language to another.

Once Robin is enrolled at Babel, he works hard at his studies and forms strong friendships with the three other members of his cohort. However, everything Robin has grown to love is thrown into question after he meets a representative of the Hermes Society, an underground group opposed to Babel’s exploitation of foreign languages for the benefit of the British Empire. He is recruited and tasked with stealing silver bars from the tower so that their power can be used for the benefit of the poor and oppressed. Caught in the middle of an escalating ideological war, Robin must decide whether the Empire’s powerful institutions of oppression can be reformed from within or if meaningful change can only come through a violent stand against the oppressors.

Babel deals heavily with racism, colonialism, and socioeconomic inequality. It’s a perfect fit for the theme of this year’s Summer Reading program, “Find Your Voice”. Find Babel: An Arcane History, along with the other titles highlighted in this year’s Adult Summer Reading program, at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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