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2007 – The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; Volume I: The Pox Party, by M.T. Anderson

April 7, 2009

A gothic tale becomes all too shockingly real in this mesmerizing magnum opus by the acclaimed author of Feed.

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy’s regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians’ fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them.

Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Post links to reviews of or your thoughts on this book in the comments.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2009 1:50 pm

    My review of Octavian Nothing, volume 1.

  2. April 12, 2009 4:13 pm

    I read this book in June of ’07. Here are my thoughts then:

    I don’t quite know what to make of this book. Here’s a quick summary: A young pregnant woman is captured in Africa and taken to America in the early days of settlement. Rather than making her a slave, however, both she and her son become the subjects of a long term experiment. The experiment is begun to discover whether blacks given exemplary educations could compete with whites. The experiment comes to a halt, however, when the chief benefactor dies and is replaced by Southern slave holders who have a different agenda. There are other elements – the Revolutionary War, an experiment with smallpox, some of the stranger aspects of the experiment including measuring and recording excrement. I found it a compelling read, but could never put it into my school library.

  3. April 14, 2009 8:01 pm

    I had a hard time getting into this one. Enjoyed the second one much more. My review is here.

  4. Kell permalink
    January 26, 2011 9:06 am

    Sigh. Me and this book seriously duked it out. It was hyped by a million people that I trust in their reviews but Octavian just fell….flat for me. I read this one pre-blog, so I don’t have any in-depth notes, but I do remember that the biggest flaw I found in the book was that the big twists weren’t particularly twist-y to me.

    I did love the format and layout of the book – the difference typefaces really was unique and interesting. I also liked that the story was told in a variety of ways: diaries, flyers, narrative. That was fascinating. If only I had found the story just as fascinating…

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