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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 schol 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.


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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 schol 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.

30 review for The Pox Party

  1. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Friends, it would be difficult to overstate my vexation upon the finishing of this allegedly excellent tome. In an effort to emulate Mr. Sharp, I shall essay to enumerate the difficulties that beset me during those long days in which I did traverse the pages of the manuscript. A) My head ached in a most alarming fashion. B) A strange desire to hurl myself off a bridge, or some such other edifice of sufficient moment, possessed me. I cannot in good conscience recommend this title, unless the pote Friends, it would be difficult to overstate my vexation upon the finishing of this allegedly excellent tome. In an effort to emulate Mr. Sharp, I shall essay to enumerate the difficulties that beset me during those long days in which I did traverse the pages of the manuscript. A) My head ached in a most alarming fashion. B) A strange desire to hurl myself off a bridge, or some such other edifice of sufficient moment, possessed me. I cannot in good conscience recommend this title, unless the potential reader be A) rendered nearly insensate by ennui, B) eager to witness the slaughter of hundreds of domestic beasts, or C) in dire need of disabuse of the notion that the worship of profit above all else is one worth emulating. Begging your indulgence for an opinion contrary to the gentlemen and ladies who hand out plaudits for writings of this sort, I remain your humble servant, kmg365.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Seth T.

    I'm rather surprised that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing should be marketed to a young adult audience. Surprised and a little bit saddened. Saddened because I think the book deserves better and surprised for similar reasons. Octavian Nothing deserves an audience built of those who are thoughtful, empathetic human beings. And this is not the typical and immediate description by which one would first describe teenagers. Certainly there are exceptions, but those are young adults whom we wo I'm rather surprised that The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing should be marketed to a young adult audience. Surprised and a little bit saddened. Saddened because I think the book deserves better and surprised for similar reasons. Octavian Nothing deserves an audience built of those who are thoughtful, empathetic human beings. And this is not the typical and immediate description by which one would first describe teenagers. Certainly there are exceptions, but those are young adults whom we would consider to be: exceptional. Definitionally speaking at the least. No, these two books deserve an audience of careful readers. Of those who are not looking for titillation or something pop or hip. These are books for those who enjoy to ferret out truth in its varied forms. For those who would value a considered approach to the historically one-sided consideration of the American Revolution and what that meant to those living in America when its outcome was still uncertain. For those concerned with the nature and history of man. These are books for readers, for those who take joy in the promise of the written page. For that reason, to market these two wonderful books to a particular age-caged demographic is a minor tragedy. Tragic for the adult who will never chance to read it for fear of wasting time on some children's trifle and tragic for the young readers who will pick it up expecting the juvenile pleasures of Harry Potter or Twilight and then put it down again in disgust, only to retain the lifelong memory that Octavian Nothing was terribly dull simply because they did not yet apprehend the means by which one could ever actually appreciate Anderson's work here. Whether Octavian Nothing is for you is a good question. I can't pretend to know you or your tastes. But I can talk about the person I think would appreciate Octavian's journey and the telling of it. This person is concerned with the state of the human creature and has at least a rudimentary care for the lives and stories of people in circumstance wholly different from anything the reader has personally experienced. This person enjoys verisimilitude in narrative voice and sees the merit in an 18th century scholar writing as would an 18th century scholar and a similarly situated soldier speaking as would such a soldier. This person enjoys rediscovering well-worn events from the fresh perspective of a vantage rarely before considered. This person enjoys unveiling grand historical ironies and is all the same troubled by the hypocrisies that such ironies must make known. This person likes to be challenged by their reading material. This is, I imagine, the person who would enjoy both volumes of the telling of Octavian Nothing's young life story. This is, in fact, the kind of person that both my wife and I are, for we enjoyed Anderson's two volumes immensely. Octavian is a young black man, a slave, recounting his youth and the years leading up to the American Revolution. He is, however, no slave of average experience. He is the subject of scientific experimentation and lives a life of relative, though strange, privilege. Still even as the Colonies are being haunted by questions of liberty and property, so too is Octavian likewise haunted—though his concern is understandably much more visceral—and approaches the well-worn concepts with a mournful grace that none of my American forefathers spent too great a time considering. Anderson's writing here is impressive. He captures the voice of the era without flaw so far as I can tell; his style is impeccable. He uses journal entries, letters, and advertisements to convey his tale and this brings a sense of immediacy to his actors' character and frame. We come to know especially Octavian and his unique perspective on the world. And as Anderson writes in the spirit of the times, his vocabulary is requisitely robust (I'm not certain I've ever been so often at a loss as to a term's meaning as I was during the course of devouring these two volumes). I can see the style becoming cumbersome for some readers, but I found it charming. There were moments in the second novel that my interest was less than stoked—as description of military engagement does little to rivet my attentions—but in all, I'd say this was a superb work. One that asks questions of philosophy and faith that merit consideration.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Octavian Nothing is a slave boy owned by a group of rationalist philosophers living in Revolutionary War-era Boston. Slowly, we learn that Octavian's upbringing, characterized by a rigorous classical education and musical training (in which he excels) regular measurment of such bodily functions as his bowel movemements, are all part of a disturbing experiment to determine whether or not people of African descent are inferior to whites. Octavian comes to realize this as well, and in the course of Octavian Nothing is a slave boy owned by a group of rationalist philosophers living in Revolutionary War-era Boston. Slowly, we learn that Octavian's upbringing, characterized by a rigorous classical education and musical training (in which he excels) regular measurment of such bodily functions as his bowel movemements, are all part of a disturbing experiment to determine whether or not people of African descent are inferior to whites. Octavian comes to realize this as well, and in the course of his relationship with an older fellow slave, begins to chafe under the bonds of his servitude, however "humane" it might appear on the surface. With the revolutionary struggle against Britain about to explode, Octavian learns increasingly bitter lessons about the hypocrisy of those who take up arms in the name of liberty but continue to sanction the bondage of tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen. The nerve-wracking, cliffhanger ending will leave you clamoring for the publication of the second book in this two part series, which should be released in 2008. While the book is nominally written for a young adult audience, this is a serious book of ideas that should satisfy any adult reader. It is written in an archaic, 18th century style and makes us of a number of innovative narrative techniques; one section of the narrative is told completely through letters written back and forth between various characters in the story. Such techniques could have easily damaged the cohesiveness of the book, but Anderson masterfully brings all of the elements of his story together. The result is stunning. Anyone interested in exploring ideas surrounding the contradictory relationship between freedom and private property, racism and the role of race in the Revolution, and the conflict bewteen extreme rationalism and human dignity should read this book. So should everyone else for that matter.

  4. 5 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    This book starts so simply yet bizarrely: an African prince and his mother subjects of scientific experiments but treated very well as befitting their station. It degenerates from there. Octavian eventually experiences the worst there is to be a slave. This book is a colonial American tale; a slavery tale; a revolutionary war tale all blended together. I wasn't prepared for the cruelty. This book starts so simply yet bizarrely: an African prince and his mother subjects of scientific experiments but treated very well as befitting their station. It degenerates from there. Octavian eventually experiences the worst there is to be a slave. This book is a colonial American tale; a slavery tale; a revolutionary war tale all blended together. I wasn't prepared for the cruelty.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    This review has been revised and can now be found at Exendable Mudge Muses Aloud. What an excellent book. This review has been revised and can now be found at Exendable Mudge Muses Aloud. What an excellent book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    I finally finished this on audiobook. I was wondering if I would have enjoyed this more if I had read it, but I don't think I would have. I think that it didn't help that this was an audiobook, and one of my complaints about the book is that it goes on and on incessantly about crap that doesn't really do anything for the plot or the enhancement of the characters. And the over-the-top period language drove me crazy by the end. I would have liked it better if all of the third person narration part I finally finished this on audiobook. I was wondering if I would have enjoyed this more if I had read it, but I don't think I would have. I think that it didn't help that this was an audiobook, and one of my complaints about the book is that it goes on and on incessantly about crap that doesn't really do anything for the plot or the enhancement of the characters. And the over-the-top period language drove me crazy by the end. I would have liked it better if all of the third person narration parts were omitted. I have also been wondering about the classification of "YA" or teen books. Does every book with a tween or teen protagonist automatically get designated as a YA book? Although I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone, I especially would not recommend it to anyone 18 or under. The beginning is soooo boring, I cannot imagine them sticking with it! This really seems like a book that was written for adults that happens to have a teen protagonist. A huge disappointment for me, considering all of the accolades and positive reviews that it has received. I feel like I really missed something here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aerin

    Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2007) 2007 Printz Honor I read this book in early February of this year, but have been too timid to review it.  Now, with my review of The Obama Revolution by Alan Schaffer-Kennedy being posted tomorrow, I thought it was a good time to throw my two cents into the dialogue of race and literature. The first volume of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the story of a young boy in 1760s Boston.  H Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Young People's Literature Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2007) 2007 Printz Honor I read this book in early February of this year, but have been too timid to review it.  Now, with my review of The Obama Revolution by Alan Schaffer-Kennedy being posted tomorrow, I thought it was a good time to throw my two cents into the dialogue of race and literature. The first volume of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the story of a young boy in 1760s Boston.  He and his mother, who is a West African princess, live at the Novanglian College of Lucidity.  They are both treated as royalty, dressed in silks and taught Latin, Greek, music and mathematics.  Through Octavian's innocence, the reader is subjected to all manner of degrading and inhuman scientific inquiries, so that by the time the boy realizes he is merely a test subject, and a slave, the reader's soul has already begun to squirm. The tale moves through a Pox Party - a sort of vaccination quarantine - which results in the death of Octavian's mother.  Observant, (naturally) intelligent and well-learned, Octavian cannot bear the circumstances which ensue.  He becomes mute, and escapes to join the army.  The last third of the book is told in the colonial colloquialisms of a fellow soldier writing home to his family. This novel is so dense, I very much agree with ALA Booklist: The story’s scope is immense, in both its technical challenges and underlying intellectual and moral questions—perhaps too immense to be contained in a traditional narrative. . . The detail of Pox Party is alarming, truly.  The breadth and scope of Andersen's allusions is beyond even my higher-education background (I'm adding Gulliver's Travels to my Fill in the Gaps list.)  The horrors of the era are clear, and cemented firmly in the racist history and beliefs of such dignitaries as Thomas Jefferson.  The experiments are absurd and gut-wrenching (the child's feces are weighed and examined against the content of his meals.)  There are scenes of graphic violence against Octavian and his mother. Coincidentally, I have just finished reading The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson, who, in 2006 reviewed Pox Party for The New York Times and had concerns about the intensity of Anderson's story.  She wrote,  The chaotic early days of the conflict that would come to be known as the American Revolution unfold as a backdrop to his personal history, and the intensity of the violence Anderson depicts may be too intense for some readers. For in addition to all of the detail, the history, the characterization, Pox Party is made that much more technically intricate by the fact that Anderson writes the entire thing in 18th century dialect.  The feat is amazing; the result is less so.  I have tremendous respect for Anderson and his ability to be so consistent in two-hundred year old styles of speech. I would hope that my reaction to the novel is merely summed up by this observation from Publisher's Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.: There's no question the premise is intriguing and the examination of issues noble. However, the meaty subject matter and Anderson's numerous stylistic devices (e.g. the use of different points of view and letters in dialect from another character) render this a challenging listen even for a sophisticated audience. However, here's the plain truth. I didn't like this book, and I have been afraid to say so. I was afraid that I didn't like Pox Party because I might be racist.  No, no, no.  Nothing like you're imagining.  I have to think there are shades of racism.  I'm absolutely not anti-other races (just check out my Facebook profile quote).  However, I couldn't and still can't decide if the fact that I couldn't identify with Octavian, that I felt so distant from him was an intentional plot device or an affirmation that, as a white woman, I could never hope to understand what it is to be the victim of racism. I mean, I can go around saying all day long I believe in equality; I can vote for an African-American, I can boycott publishers whose quotas of authors of color are low, but at the end of the day, if I haven't truly tried to be inside the body and mind of a victim of racism, then aren't I myself still stuck in the quagmire of racism? And for that matter, back to Pox Party, should Anderson have been the one to write this novel?  I nearly fell off my chair when, in a Google search, I found out he's Caucasian.  The tone of the novel is obviously sympathetic to Octavian and the plight of slaves.  Anderson is, in fact, rather relentless in his condemnation of the men of the College and of the white society.  I just wonder how the book might have been different, written by, for example, M.K. Asante, Jr. or David Bradley or Colson Whitehead. I wrestle with these issues, all of them.  I can only hope that my openness and honesty will be respected at least for what they are - the steps I myself can take.  I haven't decided yet if I will read the second volume about Octavian.  I'm not sure my heart can handle it. As for Pox Party, I have read enough other reviews to know that I'm not alone in my feeling a little "off" in my reaction.  Without a doubt, this is an important book.  It's the kind that will do so well being taught in high school or college classrooms, where discussion and research are readily available.  It's not the kind to read before you go to bed, or to take to the beach.  But it is destined to be a classic, and I feel a little strangely about that, too.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    At first I didn't know what to think of this book. I was horrified but strangely compelled to continue reading this tale of a slave boy raised in an experimental fashion. By the end, my heart was completely captured and the following passage struck me in particular. “They told me of substance and form; they told me of matter, of its consistency as a fluxion of minute, swarming atomies, as Democritus had writ; they told me of shape and essence; they told me of the motion of light, that it was the At first I didn't know what to think of this book. I was horrified but strangely compelled to continue reading this tale of a slave boy raised in an experimental fashion. By the end, my heart was completely captured and the following passage struck me in particular. “They told me of substance and form; they told me of matter, of its consistency as a fluxion of minute, swarming atomies, as Democritus had writ; they told me of shape and essence; they told me of the motion of light, that it was the constant expenditure of particles flying off the surfaces of things; they told me of color, that it was an illusion of the eye, an event in the perceiver’s mind, not in the object; they told me that color had no reality; indeed, they told me that color did not inhere in a physical body any more than pain was in a needle. And then they imprisoned me in darkness; and though there was no color there, I still was black, and they still were white; and for that, they bound and gagged me.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick Fagerlund

    In broad genre terms, it's a slave story, but it's a consummately weird one that flickers in and out of other genres and spheres of influence, the most notable encroachments being on the Gothic novel\* and the heroic literature of the American Revolution. The idea I keep turning around in my head is that it's in a complicated and fairly aggressive dialogue with some long-term trends in YA--correct me if you remember differently, but didn't most of the Revolutionary War novels largely ignore the In broad genre terms, it's a slave story, but it's a consummately weird one that flickers in and out of other genres and spheres of influence, the most notable encroachments being on the Gothic novel\* and the heroic literature of the American Revolution. The idea I keep turning around in my head is that it's in a complicated and fairly aggressive dialogue with some long-term trends in YA--correct me if you remember differently, but didn't most of the Revolutionary War novels largely ignore the question of slavery, and didn't most of the slave novels stay fairly isolated within the plantation atmosphere, and weren't the Gothic-influenced novels pretty much separated from historical context altogether? Anderson's seems to be aiming to pollute every part of historical YA fiction with... everything else. (And I want to briefly mention another thing he's doing, at least with the first part of the story: I think Octavian's early life is set up in such a way as to isolate and distill the horror of slavery itself. By having the protagonist raised in comfort and relative ease, and withholding until later the gross physical degradations of slavery as practiced in the Americas--that is, by removing the other types of horror that might confuse the issue--Anderson leaves only the _existential_ horror of slavery: the horror of being _owned,_ of being something other than a person. And, okay, that's right there in the title, and every other evil of slavery comes crashing back in in the second half the book, but still, I think the method is worth acknowledging.) Anyway, right, the story itself. I liked it. Octavian is an interesting character and a weird-ass narrator: an unreliable one who desires, above nearly all else, to be reliable (and is caught, furthermore, between incompatible definitions of reliability). The pathos is intense, the plotting is actually pretty brilliant, and I really do find myself wondering what Octavian will ultimately do and what his reasons will be. I think Anderson's doing a good job at asking questions that aren't, in any conventional way, answerable. And at wrecking poor Octavian's life. __ \* Yes, the slave novel is intrinsically quite gothic in the first place, but Octavian is raised in 1. a wealthy and well-appointed house, which is 2. largely isolated from the outside world, with 3. murky relationships of power and sex between all its adults, in which there is 4. a secret room where he is forbidden to go. So... Gothic, instead of just gothic. You know what I'm saying.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Some atrocities are studied as school children with such a narrow focus that the idea that the atrocity could happen again, to anyone, seems impossible. The Holocaust is one--slavery in America is another. There is a glut of fiction written using each as its background, but few stories convey any immediacy or intimacy of the horror. Yolen's The Devil's Arithmatic is one that does; this is another. The book begins as the reminiscence of a young prince. He is being raised by his mother, a foreign Some atrocities are studied as school children with such a narrow focus that the idea that the atrocity could happen again, to anyone, seems impossible. The Holocaust is one--slavery in America is another. There is a glut of fiction written using each as its background, but few stories convey any immediacy or intimacy of the horror. Yolen's The Devil's Arithmatic is one that does; this is another. The book begins as the reminiscence of a young prince. He is being raised by his mother, a foreign princess, and by a cadre of men known only by their numbers who have taken charge of his education. From a very young age he is taught music, the classics, scientific reasoning. And he is never allowed to go outside. An intriguingly gothic tale, and one that abruptly increases in horror upon the revelation that the prince and princess are African slaves. Their pampered lives are part of an experiment--an experiment drastically changed by the start of the American revolution. This is probably the most hard hitting piece of historical fiction about slavery I have ever read. It drew me in, got me comfortable with its exquisite style, carefully crafted language, and brilliant narrator, and then started punching me in the gut and never stopped. Although it is excellent, I cannot give this book five stars as I spent a good half of the novel feeling violent and ill.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    This is an amazing book--an exploration of some of the contradictory philosophies behind the American Revolution and a compelling coming-of-age tale at the same time. Dark and difficult, but well worth the attention.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    My state legislators have spent the past session ignoring the compelling problems such as unemployment, foreclosures, steep funding cuts to schools, and lack of access to health care, issues that make lives difficult every day. Instead they addressed the non-problem of domestic unions. An amendment has been proposed, Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. It is expected tha My state legislators have spent the past session ignoring the compelling problems such as unemployment, foreclosures, steep funding cuts to schools, and lack of access to health care, issues that make lives difficult every day. Instead they addressed the non-problem of domestic unions. An amendment has been proposed, Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. It is expected that the amendment will not receive sufficient votes in May to be enacted. Should it win the vote, it would be challenged on constitutional grounds, a contest it would not win, but which would cost the state a great deal of time and money. It is pointless, since there is already a law on the books forbidding gay marriage. So why propose it? I can think of no good reason. When my daughters asked about it, the best explanation I could give them is that some people wish to legislate away that which they do not like. That isn't adequate, though, because that law was already passed. This is about depriving citizens of their rights. My town is one of several in the state which is offering the same benefits to spouses and domestic partners. The amendment's purpose is to permanently assign a less-than status to any domestic arrangement other than heterosexual marriage. It is an effort to strip citizens of some of their rights, which in my opinion is the worst thing a law can do. "It is mean," I told my children. But I wondered, why, if I feel so strongly about this am I not putting up a yard sign, or writing letters to the editor? The answer, at lest in part, is that I had a hard time articulating why this is wrong. I felt that it was, but was unable to express why. I could think of numerous examples, showing that to take away the rights of some people was one step towards greater atrocities, but "because Nazis" is not a reasonable argument. And then, off a stack of books waiting their turn for my attention, I pulled The Pox Party. My daughter probably loaned it to me a year ago, but I hadn't even looked closely at the cover. Octavian is a slave who is being raised in a learned home with all the advantages save one. As a child his lack of freedom isn't very noticeable, for what child isn't constrained by the adults around them? As Octavian grows, and learns, and suffers, the reader feels his pain. This, truly is a fate worse than death because it never ends. Moreover, it taints and corrupts everyone. As slavery goes, one can't help thinking that Octavian has it pretty good: he is well fed, richly clothed, educated. What Anderson shows us is that without freedom even "pretty good" is horrific. Slavery infects the social interactions between Octavian and everyone else. It creates an imbalance of power that weighs down Octavian. He is surrounded by scientists, well-intentioned and sometimes even kind, not a one of whom can think straight, because of this huge, glaring WRONG that is ongoing every minute. Slavery is wrong because it denies the humanity of the one enslaved, but it also steals the humanity of everyone who goes along with it. Everyone is lying, denying what they see in order to support a system that they cannot see a way around. Everyone is constantly being tested as to how they will treat their neighbor, and everyone is found wanting. The truth of slavery is ugly. So here is my understanding, after reading this astonishing book: In order to be humane, we must recognize the humanity in others, and address it. Therefor, any effort to deny the humanity of others, such as, by stripping them of any of their rights, is not only to do a violence to them, but also to that which is humane within oneself. The only thing which makes any of us "good" is the effort to do good to others. Veronica's copy

  13. 5 out of 5

    N.K. Jemisin

    A hard one to read, since it wasn't so much a coming-of-age as a descent into hell. I was literally shocked into tears by the middle pages (you'll know which ones). Going to have to rebuild some emotional energy before I tackle book 2. A hard one to read, since it wasn't so much a coming-of-age as a descent into hell. I was literally shocked into tears by the middle pages (you'll know which ones). Going to have to rebuild some emotional energy before I tackle book 2.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    Impressive, sophisticated, expansive in its scope, although not exactly a page-turner ("old-timey" language is a challenge). Impressive, sophisticated, expansive in its scope, although not exactly a page-turner ("old-timey" language is a challenge).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    I could write two very different reviews of Octavian Nothing. There's the one where I gush and gush and practically drool over it - the raw emotion! the unexpected humor! Private Ev's letters! Then there's the one where I sing its technical praises - how finely it creates the atmosphere of another time, and the use of language, and how it is a fine, fine example of the powers of historical fiction, and how Mr. Anderson does not underestimate the abilities of the young adult, but rather shows the I could write two very different reviews of Octavian Nothing. There's the one where I gush and gush and practically drool over it - the raw emotion! the unexpected humor! Private Ev's letters! Then there's the one where I sing its technical praises - how finely it creates the atmosphere of another time, and the use of language, and how it is a fine, fine example of the powers of historical fiction, and how Mr. Anderson does not underestimate the abilities of the young adult, but rather shows them respect by offering such a fine specimen. But really, those two reviews are both true, and it's the combination of the two - the fact that it is gushworthy, heartbreaking, and intellectually stimulating all at once - that makes it Good Book in every sense of the word. That said, I know it's not a book for everyone. It's not an easy read, and the beginning is more curious than entertaining. The book takes its time to unfold characters and world views. It uses a variety of formats to tell the story. Much of the humor comes late in the story, surrounded by pain. It's clever, and emotional. It makes you think about how history is much messier than what ends up in your school curriculum, and more compelling. The audio version is very well done, with differences in voice for the different narrators and characters of the story. The reader has the kind of skill that makes the voice seem to take a back seat to the text, while subtly enhancing it. Some things are lost in audio, like Private Ev's delightful capitalization and punctuation, but the tone of voice makes up for it, and none of the emotion of the story is lost.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I’m finding it difficult to talk about this book, mostly because I don’t want to seem ignorant. Let me put it this way: my job of reviewing YA is kind of easy in that most YA is extremely accessible. It’s written for teenagers, which isn’t exactly an audience that publishers count on being intelligent. So you don’t have to work hard to understand most YA. Even experimental books like Liar or How I Live Now - or, more to the point, Anderson’s previous novel, Feed - tend to be written so that b I’m finding it difficult to talk about this book, mostly because I don’t want to seem ignorant. Let me put it this way: my job of reviewing YA is kind of easy in that most YA is extremely accessible. It’s written for teenagers, which isn’t exactly an audience that publishers count on being intelligent. So you don’t have to work hard to understand most YA. Even experimental books like Liar or How I Live Now - or, more to the point, Anderson’s previous novel, Feed - tend to be written so that basically anyone can read and comprehend them easily. But that’s not the case with this book. This book is written in authentic Victorian language that modern readers would only have passing familiarity with, and large chunks of the book use shorthand that the average person wouldn’t be familiar with at all. From a marketing standpoint, it makes no sense that this book would get published, except that Feed was already very popular and Anderson has a built-in readership because of this. If an unpublished author tried to market this as a YA book, there is zero chance it would’ve seen shelves. And that’s because your average YA reader - myself included - just wouldn’t know what to do with this. That’s why I’m a little scared of seeming ignorant when I review this book. I have never reviewed anything like this for this blog before, and I’m a little in over my head. I understood the basic plot of this novel, but I won’t pretend I didn’t miss a lot of subtleties because of the language. But I think my experience will be similar to the experiences of most people who read this book (in regards to the language at least), save for a few outliers that have English degrees and/or read this kind of thing all the time. So, here’s my best attempt to explain my reaction to this novel and why I don’t like this novel the way I loved Feed. First and foremost, this book does have a compelling premise. The book is set immediately before the American Revolution, and it’s told from the point of view of Octavian, an African slave whose entire life has been part of an experiment to prove that black people aren’t as smart as white people. That’s a really good idea for a novel. I have never read or even heard of anything like this before. Moreover, this book is extremely ambitious, even more so than Feed. This is present not just in the language, not just in the epistolary elements (in-universe, the novel is cobbled together from a bunch of primary sources, both from Octavian and from other people he meets), but also in what it attempts to portray. Octavian, through the novel, deals with the realization that his entire life has consisted of being exploited by white people, and that all of his thought processes are a result of this exploitation. Those are some really heavy, big themes, and they’re the biggest aspect that makes this novel unique. There is genuinely nothing like this in YA. My instinct after reading Feed was to compare it to the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. Both make excellent use of first person to develop a distinct voice for their characters, and both have masterful worldbuilding. Having read this, the comparisons to Ness feel even more acute, at least on paper. And since Ness is one of my all-time favorite authors, that’s not something I say lightly. Both Ness and Anderson are noteworthy for their versatility, and for the vast range of voices that they try to write. In Chaos Walking, Ness invented dialects for groups of humans living on alien planets, and created voices for the Noise, an endless stream of thoughts that all people have. In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, he captures just as perfectly the voice of a contemporary teenager. More Than This is written in third-person, but in that book, multiple characters have foreign accents that Ness captures authentically as well. Across Ness’ career, he’s written a huge variety of genres - magical realism, xenofiction, near-future, urban fantasy - and he seems to be a master at all. On paper, this book is even more stunning in these regards than anything Ness has done. Feed was a cyberpunk book that used FutureSlang very well in the narration. This is an historical fiction book, that uses authentic Victorian language. Ness has never written a historical fiction book before, and much as I love Ness, I can’t think of a single book he’s written with a premise as strong as this one. On paper, The Pox Party should be one of the best books I’ve ever read. And yet. Here’s the thing about Ness: he has a deep love of what YA literature has to offer. He believes, more than any other author that I know of, that there are great stories that aren’t being told in YA because authors aren’t taking enough risks. And I don’t always appreciate the risks Ness takes - I don’t love or even like all of his novels. But I rank him as one of the best because he consistently takes risks that nobody else is willing to take. And I just don’t see that from Anderson in quite the same way. This is the underlying difference between Ness and Anderson. Everything Ness does is in service of a great story, of new concepts and engaging thematic discussions. Everything Anderson does is in service of realism. I’m not saying that realism shouldn’t be strived for. Books should be connected to an emotional reality, and they should be grounded in real-world logic as much as possible. But when realism stands as a barrier to a good story, that’s when one should take artistic license. This is why I have very little patience for critics who define good and bad entirely by how much sense the story makes, why I spend little time nitpicking small plotholes and scientific inaccuracies. Getting things wrong on purpose is a tool. It can be used badly, so that it’s distracting - this is when I complain about flimsy plotholes or sweeping scientific oversights. But ultimately, there’s some artistic license is necessary in every good story, and Anderson doesn’t know how to use it. Anderson makes three huge sacrifices of artistry for realism, and they sink the novel for me. First, the authentic Victorian language. Maybe I’m just an ignorant person. If I were more well-versed in Victorian language, I wouldn’t have had so much trouble with it. But I think that in a YA novel for a modern audience, it’s just not appropriate. Most historical fiction novels aren’t really written in the authentic language of the time. I don’t know if the style they’re written in has a name, but I call it Pseudo-Victorian (or Pseudo-Elizabethian, Pseudo-Middle English, ect.). It’s language that’s designed to evoke the language of the era it’s going for (mainly by using formal language and well-known colloquialisms) while still remaining as readable as modern English. It’s artistic license at its finest - it’s only distracting to the most dedicated linguists, and it perfectly gets across the desired effect (when used well). And I wish Anderson had used it here. There’s no particular reason not to - I can’t find a single artistic justification for making this book so historically authentic that the language impedes comprehension for the average person. Chaos Walking and Feed both used unusual language in a way that didn’t get in the way of comprehension at all; I wish Anderson had done the same here. Second, the maddeningly slow pace of the novel. There’s just not much happening here. It’s largely a lengthy character study of Octavian, and to a lesser extent, his mother and their slaveowners. This wouldn’t normally be such a problem - a lot of my favorite novels can be described as lengthy character studies where not a whole lot happens. But this novel is just so dry that it doesn’t work. This probably wouldn’t have been such a problem if not for the Victorian language, admittedly. But nevertheless, Anderson fails to bring the setting or the characters to life in the way that he should’ve. The book takes place over several years in Octavian’s life, and Anderson very rarely dwells on individual events, preferring instead to focus on large chunks of his life. I know that this is realistic to how memoirs and autobiographies are written, but this isn’t a memoir or an autobiography, it’s a work of fiction. And as a work of fiction, Anderson choice the driest, most tedious way possible to tell this story. When an eventual climax does come, Anderson ruins it by making the third bad decision in the name of realism: the baffling choice to take the narration away from Octavian in much of the final act. Instead, much of this final act is written by farmers and soldiers that interact with Octavian. I understand why Anderson did this - for reasons that are rather spoilery, it’s unlikely that Octavian would have been able to write about his experiences during this part of the novel. But this change in narrators just doesn’t work, for so many reasons. First, it’s jarring. Other than brief interludes, Octavian narrates all of the first two acts of the book. So to have the narration switch to less interesting and important towards the end is sudden and distracting. These sections were much less interesting than the rest of the novel, just because they don’t seem to matter - the characters who write these sections don’t really matter, and we never see them again. But more importantly, not writing Octavian’s thoughts for these sections was a huge wasted opportunity. The reasons for this are, again, kind of spoilery, but in effect, Octavian reaches a huge turning point as a character and in his life right before these sections begin. The book feels incomplete without his narration in these areas. There’s a lot to like about this novel. The last forty pages or so are when the themes come to the forefront, and since Octavian actually narrates this section, their impact is fully-felt. And it is a genuinely horrifying section, perfectly encapsulating the horrors of slavery without feeling too preachy or insufferable. Anderson also has a wonderful eye for characterization, not just of Octavian, but also of the side characters. The most well-rendered of all is Octavian’s mother, whose struggle is shown beautifully and poignantly. And I suppose I also admire the ambition of this book. I go out of my way to read YA books that take risks with the genre, and I can only think of a few books that take as many risks as this one. Yes, some of those risks failed, but I can’t help but praise this book for what it could have been. There are reasons to read this book, especially if you like historical fiction. But if you want an M.T. Anderson book, Feed is the obviously superior choice. In Feed, realism happened to intersect with readable language and a powerful theme. Here, these elements clash, and Anderson makes the poor artistic decision to prioritize realism. This could’ve been a phenomenal book if he had chosen to prioritize artistry instead, but we’ll never know what that book would’ve been like. In the end, this book stands out a lot, but gives me mixed feelings on its quality. This review can also be found on my blog.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    There are some excellent books about slavery in the US that "tell all the truth but tell it slant." That is, they depict the institution in some other way than through its archetypal manifestation in the public imaginary: a large white-owned Southern plantation in the several decades prior to the Civil War. This is one of them. (Another is The Known World.) Here we have a young African prince (or so his mother tells him) being raised by the wonderfully-named Novanglian College of Lucidity, a gro There are some excellent books about slavery in the US that "tell all the truth but tell it slant." That is, they depict the institution in some other way than through its archetypal manifestation in the public imaginary: a large white-owned Southern plantation in the several decades prior to the Civil War. This is one of them. (Another is The Known World.) Here we have a young African prince (or so his mother tells him) being raised by the wonderfully-named Novanglian College of Lucidity, a group of homegrown Boston philosophes, immediately prior to and during the Revolutionary War. Octavian is taught Latin, Greek, music, mathematics, and so on, and is rigorously monitored in all ways (everything he eats and excretes is weighed). He comes to learn that he is part of an experiment designed to test the intellectual capabilities of the "Africk nation," and that he is the chattel property of the head of the College, Mr. Gitney (or Mr. 03-01 as he prefers, using their 'rational' system of designations). The book meanders and takes its time (my one criticism of it) and there is not, at least until the end, much of a story beyond the life of young Octavian. (The book is the first of a trilogy, so it may be that the grand narrative is just coming together by the end of this, the first installment.) But for all that, it is often shocking, and often moving. Major events include the observation of the transit of Venus, an event of great importance since it allowed, through the gathered observations of people all over the world, a good means of calculating the distance between the Earth and the Sun; a pox party, in which a number of people quarantine themselves and are inoculated against smallpox; and the opening salvoes of the Revolution itself. As I say, the book is about slavery. Particularly, it is about the horrifying paradox that a country born in the struggle for liberty was a country built on slavery. Patriots send their slaves to take their places in the ranks of the militias. The supporters of the Novanglian College of Lucidity, and the patriots in general, are terrified by the prospect that the British will incite their own slaves to turn against them. So the struggle against the British is necessarily a struggle to which the patriots' slaves are both necessary as a resource and a feared fifth column, to be kept in subjection. The final section of the book, masterfully entitled "The Great Chain of Being," serves as a stunning climax to the treatment of this paradox. Mr. Sharp, a sharp, two-faced 'utilitarian' in the model of Mr. Gradgrind, who by then is running the College, explains to a now openly rebellious Octavian that liberty means the liberty to own property and engage in commerce. We see the portrait of an America (contemporary as well as historical) in which the cry of liberty is just the good face put on by a calculating defense of property, money, and the hegemony of the white man. The 'experiment' of which Octavian has unwittingly been a part was, not perhaps at its inception, but during the course of events, in fact designed to fail, to prove the necessity of slavery. The foolish and naive, yet also in his mild way vicious, scientist/philosopher has become a tool of the grasping capitalist, allowing his 'experiment' to be bought. The book is mostly the recollections of Octavian himself, written in what seemed to me a very well-done faux eighteenth-century English, but these are interspersed with odd letters from others, newspaper clippings, and so on. In the third section, Octavian, who as a character has become largely mute at that point of his life in protest, has no role in the narration at all, and the bulk of it is carried on through the letters of a likable simpleton in the militia who delights in the name of Evidence Goring. Critics seem to be exercised by the way the narration is structured, but I think, on balance, that hearing voices other than Octavian's provides an important and necessary sense of perspective, as if, as in the case of the transit of Venus, we are triangulating, or telling it slant.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation #1) by M.T. Anderson series tbr busting 2013 pub 2006 young adult gothic fraudio slaves hist fic winter 2012/2013 eugenics This is really good, however I have had to make notes of the numerical codes for the characters. A chilling slant on slavery and the American Civil war couched in modern spin. 4* Feed 4* The Pox Party

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Lewis

    Okay, for those of you have read M.T. Anderson's OTHER fabulous book Feed, Octavian Nothing proves to be very interesting on a thematic comparison level. Feed is, of course, set in the distant future and depicts a very Brave New World-ish, anti-utopian warning about where we're going as a culture (and it ain't pretty, folks). Octavian Nothing, on the other hand, is set in New England during America's Revolutionary War. Both books are written in the style and vocabulary of the thoughts of its pro Okay, for those of you have read M.T. Anderson's OTHER fabulous book Feed, Octavian Nothing proves to be very interesting on a thematic comparison level. Feed is, of course, set in the distant future and depicts a very Brave New World-ish, anti-utopian warning about where we're going as a culture (and it ain't pretty, folks). Octavian Nothing, on the other hand, is set in New England during America's Revolutionary War. Both books are written in the style and vocabulary of the thoughts of its protagonists. Feed's main character is a high-school-aged boy with very little education outside of the internet and MTV, and the book, therefore, has a kind of text-messagey, anti-intellectual, lazy, sarcastic feel to it. Octavian, conversely, is a highly educated black slave, the son of an African princess and the pupil of a highly respectable classics scholar and scientist; his writing is, therefore, of a very elevated, poetic, esoteric sort. During the first fourth of the book, I kept wondering, how on EARTH are these books written by the same author?! This is a great book for those interested in the following: 1) expanding their vocabulary exponentially. Even I had to grab a dictionary occasionally 2) African American, pre-emancipation history 3) First-hand fictional accounts of the revolutionary war (ones which are not cheesy or blindingly patriotic) 4) Exploration of human dignity, resistance, pride, bondage (of many different symbolic levels), freedom (again, transcending circumstance), and true power I finally discovered the link between the two books in this fourth and final point. I don't want to go into too much detail for fear of ruining the book. For those who have read Feed, however, I will include the two quotes below to whet their appetites for some more M.T. Anderson this summer. I should also note that the book is organized like a collection of historical manuscripts. The first 2/3rds and the last 1/8th or so pages from Octavian's "manuscript testimony" (although it is not clear how it was obtained, nor who it was that blotted out unreadable a small handful of the pages); while the remainder is peppered and bridged with a collection of authentic looking letters, invitations, newspaper advertisements, etc. Very interesting for those fascinated by mixed-media art forms. ----------------------------- "'All shall be changed,' I whispered. "'Except,' said Dr. Trefusis, looking around the gathering, 'that I fear one thing shall remain. When I peer into the reaches of the most distant futurity, I fear that even in some unseen epoch when there are colonies even upon the moon itself, there shall still be gatherings like this, where the young, blinded by privilege, shall dance and giggle and compare their poxy lesions.'" -------------------------- "At long last, you may no longer distinguish what binds you from what is you." As for maturity level, there is not much here to find objectionable, but the difficulty of the writing could be prohibitive to many readers. Might be a good choice for parent and child to share a reading and discussion of.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carissa

    sweet jesus, i have never been so anxious for a book to be done as i was with this one. i listened to the audiobook and it just seemed interminable! ugh! the language is very…. gothic and high and oh, i just hated it! here’s the thing i’ve decided about m.t. anderson. he has really great premises to his books (like in “feed” where it’s in the future and everyone’s brains are jacked into the internet, or “game of sunken places” where two boys have to play a “game” to save the world, or this one w sweet jesus, i have never been so anxious for a book to be done as i was with this one. i listened to the audiobook and it just seemed interminable! ugh! the language is very…. gothic and high and oh, i just hated it! here’s the thing i’ve decided about m.t. anderson. he has really great premises to his books (like in “feed” where it’s in the future and everyone’s brains are jacked into the internet, or “game of sunken places” where two boys have to play a “game” to save the world, or this one where it takes place during the american revolution era and a group of white men have decided to do an experiment and give a black slave boy a classic upbringing to test the “negro’s native capacity”–very interesting and thought provoking premise, no?) but then he takes it in this direction that i just don’t care about and don’t want to read! in octavian nothing, for example, the first part talks about all of the ridiculous things they make this boy do in order to “study” him (he poops on a plate and they weigh and record it every time), but i thought that the climax of the book would come when he suddenly discovers who they are and what they’re doing to him (kind of like the truman show), but no, that sort of happens about a quarter of the way through the book and it’s like it’s no big deal, really. then, his owners (or whatever they are) decide to hold a “pox party” — ostensibly to innoculate a group of their friends and then all hang out together while they recover if they contract the illness in any form. and that’s kind of interesting, but also really gross because at least some of the people don’t survive the innoculation. then, octavian runs away and joins the army and the telling of his story is taken over by a soldier (named “evidence goring”) writing letters to his sister (”fruition”) and he tells stories from the battlefield and occasionally mentions octavian (who goes by the nickname, “prince”). i soooooo don’t care about reading battlefield stories. having them read to me in archaic language is excruciatingly painful. then, he is recaptured and they slap this metal hood– complete with a metal bit that goes in him mouth–onto him and lock it. at one point, they describe him gagging on the bit and then puking inside the hood and then the puke plugging up all the holes for him to breathe through and dripping out of the eyeholes and it’s just so groooossssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss! uck! maybe i would have been able to better enjoy the book if i were reading it myself and could have skimmed the parts i didn’t like.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    This book should have won the Printz award. The writing is exceptional and the story is utterly compelling. Octavian is an African prince, who lives in Colonial Boston at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Dressed in silks, educated and pampered by strange scientists who care for him and his mother, Octavian seems to lack for nothing. Until he discovers that there is one thing denied him—his freedom. This amazing and unique story begins as an allegorical fable of the Enlightenment and conclud This book should have won the Printz award. The writing is exceptional and the story is utterly compelling. Octavian is an African prince, who lives in Colonial Boston at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Dressed in silks, educated and pampered by strange scientists who care for him and his mother, Octavian seems to lack for nothing. Until he discovers that there is one thing denied him—his freedom. This amazing and unique story begins as an allegorical fable of the Enlightenment and concludes as a bitter indictment of the horrors of slavery during a time when the words “freedom” and “revolution” were on everyone’s lips. Except, of course, if you were an African slave. Teens will marvel at this compelling tale that brings into sharp focus the hypocrisy of an American society that condemned the tyranny of a white king, yet promoted the enslavement of fellow human beings.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Allison (The Allure of Books)

    This was an amazing book in so many ways, I'm so glad I picked it up. I understand that it is classified as YA...but believe me, it would more than hold it's own in the adult section as well. There are 4 sections, most of the first, second and fourth are the "manuscripts of the boy Octavian", and the language is rich and very much of the eighteenth century. Have a dictionary handy--I sure needed one quite often. I was touched and outraged throughout all of Octavian's actual memoirs, but I thought This was an amazing book in so many ways, I'm so glad I picked it up. I understand that it is classified as YA...but believe me, it would more than hold it's own in the adult section as well. There are 4 sections, most of the first, second and fourth are the "manuscripts of the boy Octavian", and the language is rich and very much of the eighteenth century. Have a dictionary handy--I sure needed one quite often. I was touched and outraged throughout all of Octavian's actual memoirs, but I thought the third section lagged a little, I even found myself just scanning parts of it. That is probably why I didn't give the book 5 stars. Anyway, I don't have much to say about the actual story. You need to read and experience it for yourself (and just WAIT until the curveball at the very end!). Here is one of my favorite sections: "...they told me of color, that it was an illusion of the eye, an event in the perceiver's mind, not in the object; they told me that color had no reality; indeed, they told me that color did not inhere in a physical body any more than pain was in a needle. And then they imprisoned me in darkness; and though there was no color there, I still was black, and they still were white; and for that, they bound and gagged me."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Trin

    This is a brilliant book. Truly, truly brilliant—full of important ideas and hard truths about slavery and freedom, and about the essential core of what America was built on, and for. Furthermore, it’s incredibly well-written, with not one but several unique narrative voices, and a wonderful flair for subtle, chilling symbolism. It is also so fucking painful I could barely get through it. The reality of Octavian’s situation—as slave, as experiment—is so brutal that I had to force myself to keep re This is a brilliant book. Truly, truly brilliant—full of important ideas and hard truths about slavery and freedom, and about the essential core of what America was built on, and for. Furthermore, it’s incredibly well-written, with not one but several unique narrative voices, and a wonderful flair for subtle, chilling symbolism. It is also so fucking painful I could barely get through it. The reality of Octavian’s situation—as slave, as experiment—is so brutal that I had to force myself to keep reading. I just wanted it to stop. I don’t think this makes this book any less of an achievement on Anderson’s part, but god does it scare me when I think about reading the sequel or recommending this book to other people. I did, however, tell the Los Angeles Public Library that I thought its decision to shelve this book under fantasy was either idiotic or offensive. We may like to pretend these things aren’t part of our history—or at least don’t really like to think about them, as my shuddery reaction surely indicates—but it’s important, every once in a while, to be reminded. Anderson does that, not just intellectually, but emotionally. It’s commendable.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    This book lives up to its title: it really is an astonishing, passionate, beautifully written novel. To talk of the plotline would be, I think, to spoil it: not because much of it is not readily apparent to the reader as it progresses, but because how Anderson unfolds the tale, how he shows the depths of Octavian's repressed trauma and reveals the hypocrisy of those around him, the blindness of racial and gender privilege. It's a fantastic, fantastic reworking of the familiar narrative of the Am This book lives up to its title: it really is an astonishing, passionate, beautifully written novel. To talk of the plotline would be, I think, to spoil it: not because much of it is not readily apparent to the reader as it progresses, but because how Anderson unfolds the tale, how he shows the depths of Octavian's repressed trauma and reveals the hypocrisy of those around him, the blindness of racial and gender privilege. It's a fantastic, fantastic reworking of the familiar narrative of the American Revolution, and highly recommended reading; I read it through in one fell swoop, for all that it made my heart ache. I'm definitely going to pick up the second volume, should I ever be able to lay my hands on a copy. I'm terribly curious to see how Octavian becomes that eponymous 'traitor to the nation'—and of course, which nation?

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Oh my god. I started this at my sister's house one night, then had to finish the pointless "Stolen Boy", so I just got back to it yesterday. I could not put the thing down. Each of the four sections was so intense and exciting and terrifying. And FINALLY: an author who messes with form in a minimalist way that has real purpose and expression. Take that, Dave Eggers! Take that, Jonathan Safron Foer or whoever! This book broke my heart every page. It deserves every award it has won and then some. Oh my god. I started this at my sister's house one night, then had to finish the pointless "Stolen Boy", so I just got back to it yesterday. I could not put the thing down. Each of the four sections was so intense and exciting and terrifying. And FINALLY: an author who messes with form in a minimalist way that has real purpose and expression. Take that, Dave Eggers! Take that, Jonathan Safron Foer or whoever! This book broke my heart every page. It deserves every award it has won and then some.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jami

    Well, for such a loquacious title, I had to admit that I was really expecting more from this novel (although it certainly wasn't lacking in verboseness). While I did find the idea of the Revolutionary War period seen from the eyes of a slave interesting, this story managed to be extremely boring. For 350 pages, I can pretty much sum up what happened like this: (Spoilers ahead!) 1. Octavian is a slave during the American Revolution period. 2. During his childhood, Octavian was given a classical educ Well, for such a loquacious title, I had to admit that I was really expecting more from this novel (although it certainly wasn't lacking in verboseness). While I did find the idea of the Revolutionary War period seen from the eyes of a slave interesting, this story managed to be extremely boring. For 350 pages, I can pretty much sum up what happened like this: (Spoilers ahead!) 1. Octavian is a slave during the American Revolution period. 2. During his childhood, Octavian was given a classical education as part of an experiment in the equality of African intelligence. (Be prepared for the first 1/3 of the book to be long and tedious details about this. Also be prepared for it to feel like much more than a mere third of the book as you constantly flip to the last page to remind yourself of exactly how many more pages you have to read before the thing ends.) 3. His mother dies of smallpox. 4. He's upset and runs away. 5. He's captured. 6. He runs off again and intends to join the British army who offers freedom to slaves. End of book. It was hard to identify (or even empathize much) with the main character because it did (in the author's own words) feel too "gothic and fantastical." Octavian's voice was detached and unreal, and in fact, I would guess no slave during this time period would have experienced such a childhood or expressed it in such a way. And the reading and language is clearly too dense to be marketed to a young adult audience (as it seems to be intended). For a much more interesting and better-written book dealing with the same topic, I would recommend Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Neal Shusterman

    Loved this book! So different from FEED, which was also brilliant. I tend to really appreciate authors who refuse to limit themselves to a singe genre, as I can relate. I listened to the book on audio, he voice was so powerful, not just the performer, but the character as well. All the characters so rich, and the recreation of colonial life from Octavian’s point of view felt flawless. If I have one negative comment (and I’m reaching to find it), is that in the latter third of the book, the lette Loved this book! So different from FEED, which was also brilliant. I tend to really appreciate authors who refuse to limit themselves to a singe genre, as I can relate. I listened to the book on audio, he voice was so powerful, not just the performer, but the character as well. All the characters so rich, and the recreation of colonial life from Octavian’s point of view felt flawless. If I have one negative comment (and I’m reaching to find it), is that in the latter third of the book, the letters from non-related characters objectively describing Octavian’s life was less compelling than Octavian’s narrative. Unless, of course they were actual letters uncovered by M.T. Anderson. If they are, then it’s further brilliance! I look forward to reading the next one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz Janet

     

  29. 5 out of 5

    David H.

    Over ten years ago, I came across a set of two books at my library called "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation." Just based on that title and the initial description of Octavian being a boy raised in a mysterious college made me want to read this. I had no idea exactly what genre it was, but I knew I wanted to try it out at some point. I finally found these books again, and I'm taking that belated journey. The first volume, The Pox Party, is set in the 1760s and '70s i Over ten years ago, I came across a set of two books at my library called "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation." Just based on that title and the initial description of Octavian being a boy raised in a mysterious college made me want to read this. I had no idea exactly what genre it was, but I knew I wanted to try it out at some point. I finally found these books again, and I'm taking that belated journey. The first volume, The Pox Party, is set in the 1760s and '70s in Boston, Massachusetts, focusing on a young black boy named Octavian. He's raised by a college of rationalist philosophers, but there's something darker going on that it takes him awhile to figure out. It's told mostly in first person point of view, and it's heartbreaking when you realize what's going on. There's a lot about racism and 18th century science in this book, and it's done in a way that I really appreciate (these books are apparently Young Adult books). Because Octavian is raised by these philosophers, his language and most of the language in this book can sound a bit over the top to modern ears, but I got used to it pretty quickly aside from needing to look up a word occasionally.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This was a completely extraordinary book - thanks for sending it, Lacy! I'm struck again by the question of what exactly makes a YA adult book a YA book. Nothing in here, whether it's writing, topic, or style, seems "YA" to me - is it simply judged so because of the age of the central protagonist? Is it a marketing choice? The book's structure captivate me from the very start, as the title page and chapter headings so beautiful recreate the style and form of eighteenth-century American pamphlets. This was a completely extraordinary book - thanks for sending it, Lacy! I'm struck again by the question of what exactly makes a YA adult book a YA book. Nothing in here, whether it's writing, topic, or style, seems "YA" to me - is it simply judged so because of the age of the central protagonist? Is it a marketing choice? The book's structure captivate me from the very start, as the title page and chapter headings so beautiful recreate the style and form of eighteenth-century American pamphlets. Nothing after that disappointed, and I relished the language, the way in which the author showed vagaries of class and education in the Revolutionary period through speech and thought. The very start of the book, which confused me a little in the beginning, since it seemed so much like fantasy, was a stroke of brilliance revealed in hindsight - the world seen through the eyes of a child who cannot comprehend the reality of his life. I plan to use this book in my class on the American Revolution. It does such a marvelous job of showing the factionalism in the north, even among those who called themselves 'patriots,' and the conversations about race and gender we can have as a result of this story will prepare my students very well to pay attention to those issues as they do their own research. It humanizes the things my students have to glean from dry court records and fragments of letters - less, usually, if they seek to reclaim the stories of the north's enslaved people. Their understanding of the Revolution will be so enriched by this book, by Octavian's many struggles, and perhaps most of all by what happens to his mother. (The history, by the way, was impeccable. It was refreshing to read a historical novel that didn't make me want to chew on my hand even once.)

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