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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing,…

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I:… (2006)

by M. T. Anderson

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Beautiful and painful story of Octavian, a prince brought up in luxury with the finest education, who discovers that he's merely been an experiment in whether the African races can actually learn and move beyond the menial. The unrest surrounding the beginnings of the American Revolution interfere and the experiment is dropped, leaving Octavian a slave. ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
Raised by a mysterious group of rational philosophers in 18th century Massachusetts, with his regal and similarly admired and studied mother, we readers quickly realize that Octavian and his mother were taken (before Octavian was actually born) from the Egba people, from the Oyo nation in western Africa. Black Africans in a world of colonial America, were managed, measured and followed by the eccentric owner, a Mr. Gitney, who has acquired them both for the purposes of scientific elucidation. Through journal-like narrative, and 18th century style, Octavian shares his fantastical story, including the strange visit of a British benefactor, the recently designated new Lord Cheldthorpe, the artistic, scientific and musical pursuits encouraged by Gitney's group of philosophers, and the eruption of hostilities between the American rebels and the royal British forces. We follow Octavian as he becomes more and more aware of his true state, at the same time political upheaval is growing on the colonies. The rest of the tale is told via letters from a young revolutionary marched with his friends and neighbors of New Hampshire, who befriends the runaway Octavian. He relates both Octavian's efforts in the rebellion and the beginning of the American Revolution around Boston; the book ends with Octavian's recapture and surprise escape, engineered by his Latin/Greek tutor. Definitely a book worthy of discerning readers - would be a GREAT AP Lang or AP Lit chosen novel, a real companion to Frederick Douglass' autobiography. ( )
  BDartnall | Sep 5, 2016 |
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 [book: 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. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Narrated by Peter Francis James. Well, how to describe? In this pre-American Revolution setting, Octavian and his mother, a princess of a far-off land, live with a band of philosophers. Octavian, who is black, is well-spoken and well-versed in the classics, Greek and Latin, and plays the violin. He thinks nothing of the fact that his food and feces are measured everyday; it is something that has been done all his life. One morning he takes a peek into a room of the house that has been long forbidden to him. He discovers a labeled, nude model of his mother, and rows of notebooks labeled with his name and his mother's name. Octavian comes to a slow realization that he and his mother have served as experimental subjects of the philosophers, no freer than any slave. Highly literate prose evokes the tone of the century. Not for every teen!
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
Octavian is raised by an intellectual society at the start of the Revolutionary War. He is one of their many experiments, although he doesn't realize it at first. The society is trying to determine whether africans are as intelligent as white europeans. When the society's original patron/investor passes away, they seek new investors. These new investors have a desire for a skewed outcome and Octavian's entire world changes for the worse. Upon the passing of his mother he runs away and joins the patriot army.

This book is different and difficult. From the language to the story itself this is a hard story to read. The antiquated language of a highly intellectual society is both amazing. There's a beauty to the extreme logic that comes from being a part of a scientific society and also the extreme floridity of the way people spoke in the 1700s.

The treatment of Octavian, Cassiopeia Bono, and other slaves in this time period is also very difficult to read about. The idea of people being treated worse than cattle is repugnant and something I've always had difficulty reading about; add to this the stark difference between the way he was treated before and after the arrival Mr. Sharpe and the creepy, strange things Octavian has had to do his entire life to due to the study. The book leaves little to the imagination in this respect.

I also did not enjoy the part of the story told by Private Goring's letters. While they provided a lot of historical context and detail that I normally find very interesting I was more interested in Octavian's feelings and how he was coping. If they had provided more glimpses into his mental state i may have enjoyed them more but with the lack of information on Octavian and the antiquated spelling and grammar they felt more onerous than they were worth.

All of that being said the author clearly put a lot of effort into this work. It feels like a piece of high literary fiction designed to make you think about the revolution and how it did not mean freedom for everyone. Clearly copious amounts of research and care went into giving it the right tone and as a reader I appreciate that. ( )
  Rosa.Mill | Nov 21, 2015 |
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Anderson, M. T.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
James, Peter FrancisReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763624020, Hardcover)

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

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy's regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians' fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson's extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:20 -0400)

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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.… (more)

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Candlewick Press

2 editions of this book were published by Candlewick Press.

Editions: 0763624020, 0763636797

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