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Paperback The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Book

ISBN: 0763636797

ISBN13: 9780763636791

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

(Book #1 in the The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Series)

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Book Overview

Anderson's imaginative and highly intelligent exploration of . . . the ambiguous history of America's origins will leave readers impatient for the sequel. -- The New York Times Book Review Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers -- but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson's...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

I couldn't put it down

I won't give away any plot information or spoilers here, the book is well crafted in it's secrecy and I would hate to ruin that. I found this book in a thrift store actually. I picked it up, looked over the cover, very briefly read the back and I threw it In my cart. I had no idea then what an amazing piece of literature I had stumbled upon. Within the first few chapters, it was evident that this book was stunning. The imagery, the language, the content... I felt like I grew more intelligent with each chapter. I'm not quite sure why it's labeled as a young adult book, it's complexity and idealism suggests that it would be better suited for a more mature audiance. That's not to say that a teen won't like it, there just needs to be a certain understanding that this isn't a light read. This is a book that you absorb. You take the words and let them stirr around in your mind before moving on. If you're looking for a book that will challenge you, teach you, excite you, disgust you,question you and stick with you... This is it. I'm 24 and when I'm 90 years old, this book will still be sitting on my bookshelf. My grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to pull it off of the shelf after my death because I will keep it for the rest of my life. It's the only book I have ever taken a highlighter to in order to underline thought provoking quotes. Let's talk about it in comparison to other books. Normally, my taste in books has two negative sides that I note. 1. The book is too informational and not enough action, therefore boring 2. The book is filled with action but lacks depth and complexity. The astonishing life of Octavian nothing has neither of those qualities. It's imaginative and leaves you questioning things that are still relevant today. It's the perfect mix of informative (I nearly forgot I was reading a work of fiction and not an actual recollection of true events) and intense. Torture, blood, death, infection, science, philosophy...all of these play a role in binding the book as a whole. It keeps your mind turning but your hand over your mouth waiting for the next big revelation. This book is the perfect length as well. I was able to read it entirely in two days but with dedication, it would be a perfect one day read. Just..buy it..seriously, buy this book

An Astonishing Novel/Puzzle

The bad news is, since you are reading this in the Customer Review section, you have probably read enough about the setting and plot of this excellent novel to have spoiled the carefully crafted setup chapters. (Fortunately, the book's dust jacket contains no spoilers.) One of the central themes follows the boy Octavian's process of solving the mystery of who he is and how he is being raised and, reflecting this process, M. T. Anderson skillfully constructs the opening so that the reader at first can't tell when or where the book takes place. Clues about the characters are gradually revealed, all true and all misleading - nothing is ever quite what it seems, and both the narrator and the reader navigate deeper and deeper levels of understanding as the story progresses. I have no idea why this is reviewed and marketed as a young readers' book, except that (a) Anderson's prior books were YA, (b) the narrator is a boy, and (c) there is no explicit sex. Anyone who expects this to be delightful and engaging light reading for teenagers will be disappointed. This book is deep, clever, moving, darkly funny and fascinating. The Booklist comment "it demands rereading" is right - it's even better the second time through, because you can see how much foreshadowing there was, and how beautifully everything ties together.

Take-your-breath-away astonishing

"The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I, The Pox Party" by M. T. Anderson is extraordinary--certainly one of the most unique, creative, and ultimately take-your-breath-away astonishing works of fiction that I've ever read. I was so impressed--no, mesmerized--by the depth and scope of this work that I read it through twice in three days. The second reading took longer than the first because I found myself pausing repeatedly either to savor the beauty of the language or to ponder universal questions of philosophy, psychology, science, and history that pop up everywhere throughout the telling. "Octavian Nothing" is a coming-of-age saga like no other you may ever encounter. The story concerns the life of the young slave, Octavian, from his earliest memories, until the age of 16. For the first half of his life, the child does not realize that he is the object of a scientific experiment to determine "whether homo africanus is a separate species from homo europaeus." The child is dressed in fine silks and given a comprehensive and exhaustive classical literary and musical education. He is told that he is an African prince and his mother an African princess. He is raised in virtual isolation by a household of scientists, philosophers, artists, and merchant investors calling themselves The Novanglian College of Lucidity. These men make sure that the child is kept at great emotional distance from his mother, the Princess Cassiopeia. Octavian is given every luxury, except the luxury to behave like a normal human child. Despite the fact that Octavian is raised as a zoological experiment by inhumanly rational, and monstrously nonempathetic scientists, we see him mature into a virtuous, empathetic, whole human being. The transformation is slow and gut-wrenching. Three men unknowingly play significant roles as mentors: Dr. Trefusis, the slave Bono, and the soldier Evidence Goring. But there is a one very significant additional source providing him with the raw building blocks necessary to reinvent himself as a fully realized emotional human being, namely the wealth of pseudo life experience provided to him by his extraordinary classical literature and music education. In great part, this is the story of a child saved by his exposure to Ovid, Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Pope, Mozart, Handel, Corelli, and the like. The book takes place in Boston between 1760 and 1775. Well-known events in the American Revolution form the historical framework and provide the story with many of its most thought-provoking themes. The story is revealed primarily from the manuscript testimony of the boy, Octavian.This manuscript is written sometime after the close of volume one when Octavian presumably becomes a "Traitor to the Nation." Toward the end, it is suggested how Octavian might become a traitor, but the Volume I ends before that event occurs. The book contains no direct narration; rather, it is told entirely through fiction

An Excellent read

This is an excellent book. This book is worthy of being a classic. This book demands rereading. There are a few dull parts, but it's only in the beginning. After that, this book gets a lot better. It's 351 pages. I am looking forward to volume 2. If you hear someone saying that they don't like this book because it's boring...well, that is because everyone is reading too much Gossip Girl now that no one can appreciate a good book without saying it's boring. I totally judge any parent that buys Gossip Girl or Meg Cabot for their kids.

A Pox on Rationalists! (At least, these rationalists!)

"I do not believe they ever meant unkindness." So Octavian says of those to whom he was an experiment, to those who claimed him as chattel, to those who weighed his excrement daily and compared it to his intake. It is perhaps this book's most frightening truth that he is correct. Octavian and his mother were sold into slavery in the 1760s, in Boston, to The Novanglian College of Lucidity. These men were rationalists, and sought to discover - once all of the niceties are removed - whether the Negro was inferior to the European. Octavian was taught "the arts and knowledge of the physical world...the strictest instruction in ethics...kindness, filial duty, piety, obedience, and humility," Latin, Greek, the violin, and while learning these things, he was dressed in silk and lavished with luxuries. Yet we see the detached scientist immediately in his caretakers, as Octavian describes an experiment whereby they drowned a dog to time its drowning, and another where they dropped alley-cats from high places to "judge the height from which cats no longer shatter," and yet another where they tried to teach a girl "deprived of reason and speech" the usage of verbs, and when the girl could not master verbs, they beat her "to the point of gagging and swooning." And yet they never meant unkindness. While this is a book of fiction, it is useful to remember (as the author calls us to at the end) that while the College of Lucidity is a fictional entity, the kind of experiments they conducted indeed took place, and the question of inferiority was one that was much discussed. Octavian, with his mother, Mr. Gitney, and Dr. Trefusis, excelled. He became literate beyond their hopes, and could play the violin as a virtuoso. Without a doubt, his education was better than the vast majority of children his age, white or black. But then the College's benefactor dies, and a new benefactor arrives, represented by Mr. Sharpe, who presupposes the inferiority of the Negro and demands that Octavian's studies be changed...changed to ensure his failure. As with all stories, once change is introduced, the stakes increase. Anderson tells this story with a remarkably sure hand, using spot-on eighteenth century diction and grammar as much as he could without losing his intended audience, young adults. The majority of the story is told through the backward-looking eyes of Octavian himself, but Anderson also employs newspaper clippings and a variety of letters (most entertaining were the set from the soldier, Evidence Goring, to his sister and mother) to further authenticate the tale and ground it. All of the characters are three-dimensional. The plot is handled with meticulous care, moving cautiously in the beginning, like an orchestral score, building with intensity to the moment of change, the crescendo which, not surprisingly, also occurs side-by-side with a telling of a part of the War. Setting his story against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War proved brilliant, for

Don't miss it

Read this book and give it to everyone you know or love, whether 15 or 55. It's a stunning, extraordinary look at our own history through the eyes (usually) of Octavian Nothing, an African child slave who is, in this first of two books, the subject of experiments by a group of Boston rationalist philosophers. The purpose of the experiments? For the "philosophers" to learn whether Africans have the same capacity to learn as white children do. Because the Revolutionary War is about to break out, the characters' lives change in unpredictable ways. Every single page of this book, which is told in highly-readable and startlingly rich eighteenth-century language, is filled with brilliance and pain, and there are few characters in contemporary fiction that I care about as much as I care about Octavian. You will, too. Furthermore, there are parallels, resonances, echoes, and consequences for all of us today---your brain will be unusually active as you read, and you won't be able to put the book down or stop thinking about it. Disclaimer: I'm thanked in the acknowledgments, but this graciousness on Anderson's part in no way affects my opinion of the book.
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