Cover image for The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. 1 The pox party
Title:
The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. 1 The pox party
Edition:
1st electronic ed.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.
ISBN:
9780763651787
Physical Description:
1 online resource (313 p.)
Target Audience:
1090 L
Series:
The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation ; v. 1
Language:
English
Awards:
Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2007
Abstract:
Various diaries, letters, and other manuscripts chronicle the experiences of Octavian, a young African American, from birth to age sixteen, as he is brought up as part of a science experiment in the years leading up to and during the Revolutionary War.
Lexile Measure:
1090
Holds:

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Summary

Summary

National Book Award Winner!
This deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

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.


Reviews 2

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Many readers think that classics have little relevance to our modern lives. But with the right author and the right turn on a classic tale, these stories can remain as relevant today as they were when they were first written. Julius Lester's Cupid (Harcourt, 2007) is a retelling of the ancient myth of the love story of Cupid and Psyche (originally written by Lucius Apuleius). Cupid, the Greek God of Love, and Psyche, a mortal princess, have a tempestuous love affair (and conflicts with Venus, Cupid's mother). Throughout their affair, Cupid and Psyche learn about themselves and the meaning of true love. With Jupiter's help, Psyche attains immortality. Lester's fresh and sassy prose brings new life and luster to the story, and actor Stephen McKinley Henderson's expert, enthralling narration always holds listeners' attention. On the other hand, M. T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Candlewick, 2006), winner of the 2006 National Book Award, falls flat because its uniqueness renders it unintelligible. In this imitation of Voltaire's Candide, written in 18th-century language, young Octavian Nothing, an African child, is raised by tutors with numbers instead of names and subjected to experiments performed on him by Boston philosophers who seek to determine the intellectual ability of Africans. While the idea and the scope of Anderson's novel are fresh, the plot and the prose are so confusing that it becomes difficult to follow the story. The narration by actor Peter Francis James is first-rate, but only advanced high school students and aficionados of the Enlightenment will be able to wade through the novel. On the other hand, Lester's lively retelling of the Cupid classic enhances the original tale and makes it accessible to students.-Larry Cooperman, Seminole High School, Sanford, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Guardian Review

Octavian is a rare small beast. Arriving in Boston from Africa in his mother's womb, he has been taken up by a group of scientifically minded gentleman who use him as a lab rat. On fire with the ideas of the late Enlightenment, these stalwarts of the College of Lucidity set about investigating whether Homo Afri is as capable as any white man of learning Latin, mastering Euclid and fiddling the old European masters. For a while the answer is a resounding yes. Octavian is a perfect little prodigy of polite learning. In fact he is a bit of a prig. Dressed in rich silks that make him look like a tiny bird of paradise, he knows his Tacitus, not to mention his Handel. He can tell you precisely when Venus will transit the Sun. And yet there is a dark undertow to all this hot-housing. Every time Octavian uses the chamber pot, the contents are weighed and recorded in a large book. For despite all his privilege, he remains an experiment, a thing, a chattel to be bought and sold by his white masters. This precarious status becomes even more pronounced once changes in the body politic start to impact on the fetid world of the College of Lucidity (one of its last gasps has been to throw a "pox party" in which the new science of inoculation is put to the test). Rumours abound all over New England that African slaves are beginning to rise in revolt against their owners. British redcoats are stirring things even further, telling bonded workers that their best chance of freedom lies, paradoxically, in siding with their colonial masters. Traumatised by the death of his mother at the pox party - the only African to succumb - Octavian makes a dash for freedom. Working as a farmhand, pub musician and foot soldier in the Patriot army, he eventually sees action at Bunker Hill before being bundled back to his owners in chains and with a vicious bit between his teeth. The book ends with Octavian's escape, thanks to a big dose of opiates in the tea of the self-proclaimed "Sons of Liberty" who preside over the diabolical college. Most of this story is told by Octavian himself, and one of the wonders of the book is MT Anderson's ability to ventriloquise the voice of an educated African slave. Octavian doesn't simply sound like the 18th century, he somehow becomes it, embodying a sensibility that you would think impossible to fake. The result, inevitably, is not always easy reading. The language is antique, the psychology alien. Despite being marketed as a book for teenagers, Anderson makes no easy concessions to contemporary concerns. With his rational emotions and formal language, Octavian remains an 18th- century curiosity rather than a poster child for racial integration in high-school America. And yet anyone prepared to keep faith with the demands that Anderson makes of his readers is due a huge reward. The language may be chilly but it has a swell of elegance that carries you along like a clipper. The "Sons of Liberty" may be heinous, but in their bungled experiments you begin to see the internal contradictions inherent in the whole Enlightenment project. Octavian himself may be an odd fish, but his reasoned request for liberty stays with you longer than any amount of hot-teared playing to the gallery. This is a book which arrives from America groaning with rewards and reputation. It deserves to do just as well here. Kathryn Hughes's biography of Mrs Beeton is published by Harper Perennial. To order The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing for pounds 11.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop Caption: article-octavian.1 Most of this story is told by Octavian himself, and one of the wonders of the book is MT Anderson's ability to ventriloquise the voice of an educated African slave. Octavian doesn't simply sound like the 18th century, he somehow becomes it, embodying a sensibility that you would think impossible to fake. The result, inevitably, is not always easy reading. The language is antique, the psychology alien. Despite being marketed as a book for teenagers, Anderson makes no easy concessions to contemporary concerns. With his rational emotions and formal language, Octavian remains an 18th- century curiosity rather than a poster child for racial integration in high-school America. - Kathryn Hughes.