What do you think?
Rate this book
544 pages, Hardcover
First published August 23, 2022
“Language was always the companion of empire, and as such, together they begin, grow, and flourish. And later, together, they fall.”
“‘But that’s the beauty of learning a new language. It should feel like an enormous undertaking. It ought to intimidate you. It makes you appreciate the complexity of the ones you know already.’”
"Languages are easier to forget than you imagine… Once you stop living in the world of Chinese, you stop thinking in Chinese… Words and phrases you think are carved into your bones can disappear in no time.’
"Translation, from time immemorial, has been the facilitator of peace. Translation makes possible communication, which in turn makes possible the kind of diplomacy, trade, and cooperation between foreign peoples that brings wealth and prosperity to all."
"Betrayal. Translation means doing violence upon the original, means warping and distorting it for foreign, unintended eyes. So then where does that leave us? How can we conclude, except by acknowledging that an act of translation is then necessarily always an act of betrayal?"
"In the years to come, Robin would return so many times to this night. He was forever astonished by its mysterious alchemy, by how easily two badly socialized, restrictively raised strangers had transformed into kindred spirits in the span of minutes."
"Only it builds up, doesn’t it? It doesn’t just disappear. And one day you start prodding at what you’ve suppressed. And it’s a mass of black rot, and it’s endless, horrifying, and you can’t look away."
“Babel, his friends, and Oxford– they had unlocked a part of him, a place of sunshine and belonging, that he never thought he’d feel again. The world felt less dark now.”
“Power did not lie in the tip of a pen. Power did not work against its own interests. Power could only be brought to heel by acts of defiance it could not ignore. With brute, unflinching force. With violence.”
"I think translation can be much harder than original composition in many ways. The poet is free to say whatever he likes, you see– he can choose from any number of linguistic tricks in the language he’s composing in. Word choice, word order, sound– they all matter, and without any one of them the whole thing falls apart. That’s why Shelley writes that translating poetry is about as wise as casting a violet into a crucible.† So the translator needs to be translator, literary critic, and poet all at once– he must read the original well enough to understand all the machinery at play, to convey its meaning with as much accuracy as possible, then rearrange the translated meaning into an aesthetically pleasing structure in the target language that, by his judgment, matches the original. The poet runs untrammelled across the meadow. The translator dances in shackles."
"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."
"Mande mwen yon ti kou ankò ma di ou,"
“It was so obvious now that he was not, and could never be, a person in his father’s eyes. No, personhood demanded the blood purity of the European man, the racial status that would make him Professor Lovell’s equal. Little Dick and Philippa were persons. Robin Swift was an asset, and assets should be undyingly grateful that they were treated well at all.”
“You have such a great fear of freedom, brother. It’s shackling you. You’ve identified so hard with the colonizer, you think any threat to them is a threat to you. When are you going to realize you can’t be one of them?”
“Translation means doing violence upon the original, means warping and distorting it for foreign, unintended eyes. So then where does that leave us? How can we conclude, except by acknowledging that an act of translation is then necessarily always an act of betrayal?”
// buddy read with melanie <3