Grabbed this from the Libby popular list without many expectations, but a hunch I'd like it: a speculative fiction about languages and imperialism. A long audiobook clocking at around 21 h, I had to listen to roughly 90 min per day if I wanted to finish it before it was returned to the library (long waitlist).

I did like it, a lot, and so I listened to it at every possible moment (making coffee, weeding the garden, cooking etc.) and finished it a couple of days early despite a 3-day break during our trip to the gorges de la Jonte.

Kuang seems to have done meticulous research for the book. In the book's introduction, she talks about the story's setting—an alternate version of Oxford in the 1830s—and precisely how it differs from real 1830s Oxford, from the location of buildings to the way people speak. There is also a wealth of translation "fun facts" throughout the book; subtle differences or nuance between languages that are essential to the plot (no spoilers here).

The only thing that I liked a little bit less concerns the core of the story, the one about colonialism and empire and the role of academia in it: the book's critique of the British Empire. I felt like it was a bit overdone in the end: the main character's perspective shifts into a very extreme position (the book's full title is "Babel, or the Necessity of Violence") that I couldn't really empathize with, and most characters and institutions turn out to be black-and-white, one-dimensional caricatures as they develop, instead of complex, nuanced organisms. Things start out ambiguous and resolve into "the white men were evil all along you just didn't see it" which, sure, but I kind of expected more? I might have had less of an issue with this if it didn't feel so real—this critique of institutions is also an account (and a justification?) of radicalization and extremism. Thought-provoking nonetheless.