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21 May 2007 @ 09:02 am
M.T. Anderson's THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, VOLUME ONE: THE POX PARTY (5 stars)  
Set in 1775 before the looming American Revolution, Octavian's story urges its readers to reconsider power, fear, control, love, individuality, and color through the lens of a young slave boy and his mother. Having once enjoyed the life of royalty in Cassiopeia with the African Egba people, Octavian and his mother now live as slaves as The Novanglian College of Lucidity in Boston, Massachusetts, where Octavian is the main subject in an experiment in education that hopes to determine whether Africans are "a separate and distinct species."

As tension in the Colonies rises, Octavian's benefactors begin to lose money and the ability to support such a grand social experiment. Octavian uncovers some secrets of his past that his owners don't want him to know, and his soul gets restless. An older slave at the College (Bono, short for Pro Bono, or "For Free") then plants the seed of freedom in Octavian, enlightening him to his mother's history and her being stolen and sold into slavery, shocking him into the truth of his situation, his past, and the reality of his education.

Anderson humorously describes OCTAVIAN NOTHING as "a kind of unintelligible 18th-century Johnsonian Augustan prose by an obsessive neurotic who rarely leaves his house or even gets dressed," qualities which give the novel a unique level of authenticity. Octavian's voice is the most sophisticated all the characters (get ready for a roller coaster ride of language), showing the fruits of his benefactors' experiment and the brutality of Octavian's enslavement. If you let it, Octavian's voice will enthrall you, his situation shock you, and his journey carry you to a tragically wonderful place.

2006 National Book Award Winner in Young People's Literature and 2006 Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award in Young Adult Fiction, M.T. Anderson's THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, VOLUME ONE: THE POX PARTY is a fantastic novel. A must read.

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coebooth on May 22nd, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)
I loved OCTAVIAN NOTHING too. I can't stop thinking about it!

And I can't wait for Volume Two!!!
:-)
The Blog of Author Jonathan Stephensjonstephens on May 22nd, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
Me neither. But heavens knows we don't want to rush him. I mean, it's gotta be good.

But you're right...this book sticks with you. I mean, that scene at the end? Holy fudgsicles, Batman! I can't remember that last thing I've read that was that vivid.

Anyway, happy reading. And writing!
mike|tedlost_child2 on February 29th, 2008 03:25 am (UTC)
I gave this a read based on a comment you made on its impressive vocabulary. And add me to the Octavian Nothing fanclub, too!

At the beginning i was a little worried that Octavian was too impassive...until i realized that was the point. Leave it to Anderson to make even the book's apparent weaknesses into tremendous strengths. Loved this book - many thanks. :)