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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Paperback – Jan 22 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (Jan. 22 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763636797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763636791
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 14.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #212,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on Jan. 4 2008
Format: Hardcover
Even the title gives the reader a glimpse of the ostentatious nature of this incredible book. THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION is presented as a young adult title, which should in no way limit it only to the teen audience. Indeed, this book will be a challenge for many high school students -- a challenge well worth the effort.

M.T. Anderson immediately immerses his reader in the flowery, pretentious language spoken in the Revolutionary War period, a language that requires thought and concentration for today's reader. Once the reader is acclimated to the writing style, they are already hooked by Octavian's story. Octavian, an African prince, was sold while yet unborn, to one Mr. Gitney, referred to as 03-01, of the Novanglian College of Lucidity. He was dressed in fine silks and fed the finest of fares. His mother was treated as the African princess she was, entertaining gentlemen, playing her harpsichord.

It was not until Octavian turned eight that he realized his life was not normal, that he was indeed one of the College's experiments. No other human being had their intake, as well as their body's waste, measured and recorded. Every word spoken, every situation, was a challenge to excel, an experiment to determine if the African race was capable of advanced thought and skill. Not all children, especially black children, were given the opportunity for a classical education. Octavian was already an accomplished violinist. He read all of the great literature, in several languages, including Greek and Latin. He understood figures, physics, and sciences of the earth. No discipline was left untouched in the quest to determine the potential of a slave to learn.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By aude CHI on Feb. 13 2009
Format: Paperback
I was juste amazed and so interested by this book. I could not put it down (both volumes).
It gave me such an understanding on the roots of the american culure, of the battles beween american freedom and british culture, of the principles and rigidity of the religious principles..etc. I am a French canadian from Montreal and since we will have the 200th anniversary of the battle in QUebec where the French lost against those english armies. I can really better understand how our culture came to be so far apart and why we have so much problem with our english here, which were the more conservative americans, those who did not want to be free.
But aside from political issues this is a fascinating book, very well written. The philosophical comparison with the roman battles is something. One can measure the giant step which was made since then to put Obama president.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 105 reviews
91 of 92 people found the following review helpful
A Pox on Rationalists! (At least, these rationalists!) March 22 2007
By Jonathan Appleseed - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"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 the irony of slave-owners sending slaves not promised freedom to fight in their stead for the cause of liberty, can be lost on no one.

This is without question one of the most moving books I have read in some time. The character of Octavian is one of the most unique and fully realized I have ever encountered in young adult fiction.

That this won the National Book Award should be no surprise.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
one of the best novels I've read in the past year--YA or otherwise April 26 2008
By a reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I LOVED this book. However, it is most certainly not for everyone. This is a challenging read. The language is difficult and even antiquated in parts, but 1) I make it a habit to read with a dictionary nearby so this didn't faze me, and 2) even when I wasn't in the mood to stop reading to look something up, I was still able to figure out the meaning of the text based on the overall context. Besides, after about 50 pages or so, I became accustomed to the writing style and then I blazed through the rest of the book.

If you're willing to put in the effort, the payoff is huge. The characters are believable. The story is horrific, heartbreaking, and somehow hopeful at the same time. The language is stunningly gorgeous in parts. The subject matter is fascinating, and it made me think about our country's history from a different perspective. Also, if you don't read too many reviews that all but spoil the plot for you (Anderson slowly reveals the reality of the situation to the reader as Octavian begins to realize what's going on), the tension and mystery of it propels you along. The cliffhanger ending was perfect, and I cannot wait for the second book in the series to be published.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Don't miss it Aug. 17 2006
By Leda D. Schubert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Disturbingly Beautiful - but for young readers? Jan. 28 2008
By Steven Boe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is very disturbing but in a a beautiful dark way. I bought it from the title alone so I didn't know what I was getting myself into but was pleasantly surprised. Anderson has an incredible way of describing emotions on a variety of levels. It says this book is for young readers but I found nothing that seemed to support this. Maybe it's only for very intelligent and deep young readers however I think the subject matter would be great for all of todays teens to study.

Unfortunately the ending leaves you hanging and doesn't seem complete. I'm not patient enough to wait another year for Volume 2.

Bottom line is if you like dark, tragically sad, well written books I would recommend this one.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
An Astonishing Novel/Puzzle June 22 2007
By Mike Borok - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.

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