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The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

Quit ‘Babel’-ing and read books

Courtesy of Harper Voyager

Ok, full disclosure: I didn’t know National Poetry Month existed until last month, so I didn’t exactly have enough time to thoroughly explore poetry or poetic books. However, I would like to highlight three books that I read in March and April that stood out to me the most.

“If He Had Been with Me” by Laura Nowlin

This book was interesting to read but not my favorite. It oscillated between remarkably well-written and slightly cringe. The main character Autumn was very reminiscent of an early-2010s “not like other girls” Tumblr personality, but she was also a fun character to read and at times very relatable. “If He Had Been With Me” depicts Autumn’s journey from middle school to high school. It follows her over years of friendship, heartbreak, despair and love. I can admit that it was very romantic, at times in the actual topic and the writing itself, which was very poetic. Initially, I found the cast of characters fascinating and developed theories about many of them, however some characters were not explored as much as I would have hoped. Towards the end, many of them felt one-dimensional and, to be honest, kept annoying me. Nevertheless, the narrative held my interest and I ended up genuinely liking Autumn.

“Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” by Pablo Nerudo, translated by W.S. Merwin

This one is actually a collection of poetry, which was totally unplanned, but a win for National Poetry Month! These poems were super cool to read in English alongside their original Spanish counterparts. The English adaptation I read was written by acclaimed author and translator W.S. Merwin. Meanwhile, Pablo Nerudo’s poetry is incredible. This book was so fun, and devastating, to read. Despite the promise of only one
song of despair, each of these poems had an undertone of longing for someone lost. Honestly, the poems are also rather useful for improving Spanish reading skills if you are learning the language. But if not, you can still enjoy the English translations.

“Babel” by R.F. Kuang

This book’s full title is “Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution.” It explores the impact of British imperialism and how both the restriction of native languages and the usage of certain languages can be wielded as tools of colonialism, all through the lens of a magical secret society within Oxford University. In “Babel,” the use of engraving translations of words into English on silver bars serves as a magical spin enabling translators to give the British empire great power, further fueling their imperial efforts. “Babel” provides an engaging way to discuss the effects of colonization, and it’s, without a doubt, my favorite book at the moment.

The books I read this March and April were all very different, but they also all covered very heavy topics. If you think subjects that detail racism (“Babel”) and sexism, including assault, (“If He Had Been with Me” and “Twenty Love Poems”) might be triggering to you, please don’t read these books. Make sure to prioritize your mental health, but if you do choose to read any of them, enjoy!

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Julia '26
Julia '26, Junior Copy Editor
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