Molly Jo's Reviews > The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nati... by M.T. Anderson
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Nov 26, 11

bookshelves: 2009-books
Read in March, 2009

This book was not at all what I expected. I'm not sure what I was expecting, though, but I know that I was much more naive going into Octavian than I was coming out.

Before I continue, I'm going to remind you all that this is a work of fiction based around events that occurred during the formation of our country. The time period is 1775-76 and I'm ashamed to say that I knew next to nothing about that era going into this book. What do I remember from my Junior American Government/History class in high school? My teacher was nerdy and I thought that was kinda hot. That really isn't all that I remember, I just cannot recall any of the information. In numerous art history classes in college I bitched and moaned about America being devoid of any interesting history. I wanted to be from Europe where the history from the art perspective was interesting to look at. In terms of style, I still feel that way. I've seen countless pictures of Washington crossing the Delaware and they have all bored me to tears. What I should have thought about while looking at those paintings was what brought Washington to that moment. What he fought for. What he was trying to gain and why he did it.

After reading Octavian Nothing, I will never look at Revolutionary depictions the same. Oh, the style will still bore me, I have no doubt about that. The difference is that the moment will not.

When I write these blogs, my goal is to interest a reader without giving away any major details. It's not an easy task, especially with this book. It's not going to stop me, though!

From the outset, you know that Octavian and his mother, Cassiopeia, are royalty. They are dressed and treated well, and Octavian is well educated. Their entire lives are measured by the philosophers they live with: intake, output, everything is charted. Around them the Revolution is beginning and the entire 'school' is moved to the country, presumably to escape the disquiet of Boston and threat of slave rebellion. This is where the plot gets going and I could not put the book down! When I was forced to, I thought about the characters constantly!

Anderson's writing flows beautifully and is wonderful to read! I was trying to remember if there were any slow parts, and I couldn't think of a single one! If there was one or two, I didn't notice because I wanted more and more of Octavian. I completely fell in love with this character. That being said, the content was not always easy to read. Face it, some of the practices during that time were down right barbaric, and I'm not even talking about the scenes from the war. As hard as it was to get through those parts, there's no way that Anderson could have left them out of the story.

I most definitely have more to say about this book, but I'm going to wait until I've finished Vol. 2. I'd like to include a couple excerpts, though. One is a quote that really struck me when I was reading. I mean struck me enough to get out of bed in the middle of the night, in a motel room with my parnets, and hunt down a highlighter. It's also said by my favorite character, after Octavian, of course. Which character? You have to read to find out! I know. I'm devious! The second is from the author's note, where he makes an important note about the content and what the reader needs to keep in mind throughout the book.

"Except 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. We are a young country, a country of the young. The young must have their little entertainments." page 203

"As for the Revolutionary War content, it should be said at the outset that this is a novel, in which context it would be impossible (and even undesirable) to present all the available material in its full complexity. It was my purpose to try to re-create a moment when we did not know that the war would be won by the colonists - or what that victory would bring about. To my mind, attempting to understand the conflict as an uncertain revolution, as a civil war of Englishmen against their own legitimate government, restores awareness of the real bravery demonstrated by those provincial farmers and craftsmen who took up arms against the most powerful empire in the world."

I took an American literature class in college where the professor focused on the struggle to be free. While I was an art major, that didn't mean I couldn't find my way through the lit class. There was still something missing, though, some concept I wasn't able to grasp. When I read the above excerpt, I wanted nothing more than to take this book to my professor and say, "this is what the struggle to be free looks like."

While this is a work of fiction, I think it has the amazing power and capacity to open the minds of teenagers and young adults and bring them to an appreciation of our country's history like nothing I've seen in my generation.
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