Sunday, March 18, 2012

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

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

Genre: Historical Fiction - YA (Going towards the 2012 Genre Fiction Challenge!)

I listened to this book on my new commute to my new job as a librarian with a large library system in Western Washington.

(Yes, I've moved to a new state and started a new job, and yes, that is why I haven't been updating recently.)

Anyways, this book pulled me in a few different directions.

 I'll admit that I knew very little about it going in, so at first, I thought I was listening to some kind of dystopian, speculative fiction novel. We have this boy, Octavian, who is raised in this household called the Novanglian College of Lucidity.

He is told that he is a prince and his mother is a princess, and he is surrounded by men who teach him latin, music, and the classics and who dress him in all sorts of finery. Also, except for he and his mother, everyone is addressed as a number, not a name.

Anyways, turns out this "College" isn't any such thing but some kind of social experiment to see if Octavian's "race" was capable of learning all the things white people could learn. Yes. That's right. Octavian is actually an African American slave being experimented on around the time of the Revolutionary War.

It's quite shocking and listening to the book added to the mood of the novel. My favorite part of the book was the Prince's first person narrative in the first half to two thirds of the way through the novel. There is a point where he runs away and the book changes narrative styles by going to epistles between third parties, and I have to say, it lost my attention there.

And while this book isn't based on any particular real historical person, it is inspired by the fact that such experimentation actually did occur in this era, as the author points out in the end of the book.

Fabulously written to reflect the language of the time period (which may be a drawback for some), this book offers an alternative perspective of an African American slave living at a time when people were proclaiming and fighting for "liberty" and "inalienable rights" in the streets.

'...O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy.


  1. Miri Gifford ShortenMarch 19, 2012 at 6:34 AM

    Oh, that's good to know! I've actually picked this up a couple times but never started it. And I was never able to quite get a picture, from what I've heard about it, of what the premise is. It sounds really interesting though and I'm definitely going to have to check it out again now. 

  2. Great to see you back, Lari, been checking for your insightful posts a while now.  Good luck in the new state and job.  Glad to see this post - the cover made me think of Pinocchio, and I've passed it over a few times now.  Time to go hunt up a copy and dip into it.  Your overview is thought-provoking, makes me wonder what I would think about it.  Thanks.

  3. Aino- Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to posting more. I'm currently brainstorming the future of this blog. 

  4. Let me know what you think of it, if you get the chance to read it!


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