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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

4.1 31
by M. T. Anderson

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Now in paperback, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role


Now in paperback, this deeply provocative novel reimagines the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots 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 past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

"Anderson’s imaginative and highly intelligent exploration of . . . the ambiguous history of America’s origins will leave readers impatient for the sequel." — THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.22(d)
1090L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt



I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.

I recall, in the orchard behind the house, orbs of flames rising through the black boughs and branches; they climbed, spirit-ous, and flickered out; my mother squeezed my hand with delight. We stood near the door to the ice-chamber.

By the well, servants lit bubbles of gas on fire, clad in frock-coats of asbestos.

Around the orchard and gardens stood a wall of some height, designed to repel the glance of idle curiosity and to keep us all from slipping away and running for freedom; though that, of course, I did not yet understand.

How doth all that seeks to rise burn itself to nothing.

The men who raised me were lords of matter, and in the dim chambers I watched as they traced the spinning of bodies celestial in vast, iron courses, and bid sparks to dance upon their hands; they read the bodies of fish as if each dying trout or shad was a fresh Biblical Testament, the wet and twitching volume of a new-born Pentateuch. They burned holes in the air, wrote poems of love, sucked the venom from sores, painted landscapes of gloom, and made metal sing; they dissected fire like newts.

I did not find it strange that I was raised with no one father, nor did I marvel at the singularity of any other article in my upbringing. It is ever the lot of children to accept their circumstances as universal, and their articularities as general.

So I did not ask why I was raised in a house by many men, none of whom claimed blood relation to me. I thought not to inquire why my mother stayed in this house, or why we alone were given names - mine, Octavian; hers, Cassiopeia - when all the others in the house were designated by number.

The owner of the house, Mr. Gitney, or as he styled himself, 03-01, had a large head and little hair and a dollop of a nose. He rarely dressed if he did not have to go out, but shuffled most of the time through his mansion in a banyan-robe and undress cap, shaking out his hands as if he'd washed them newly. He did not see to my instruction directly, but required that the others spend some hours a day teaching me my Latin and Greek, my mathematics, scraps of botany, and the science of music, which grew to be my first love.

The other men came and went. They did not live in the house, but came of an afternoon, or stayed there often for some weeks to perform their virtuosic experiments, and then leave. Most were philosophers, and inquired into the workings of time and memory, natural history, the properties of light, heat, and petrifaction. There were musicians among them as well, and painters and poets.

My mother, being of great beauty, was often painted. Once, she and I were clad as Venus, goddess of love, and her son Cupid, and we reclined in a bower. At other times, they made portraits of her dressed in the finest silks of the age, smiling behind a fan, or leaning on a pillar; and on another occasion, when she was sixteen, they drew her nude, for an engraving, with lines and letters that identified places upon her body.

The house was large and commodious, though often drafty. In its many rooms, the men read their odes, or played the violin, or performed their philosophical exercises. They combined chemical compounds and stirred them. They cut apart birds to trace the structure of the avian skeleton, and, masked in leather hoods, they dissected a skunk. They kept cages full of fireflies. They coaxed reptiles with mice. From the uppermost story of the house, they surveyed the city and the bay through spy-glasses, and noted the ships that arrived from far corners of the Empire, the direction of winds and the migration of clouds across the waters and, on its tawny isle, spotted with shadow, the Castle.

Amidst their many experimental chambers, there was one door that I was not allowed to pass. One of the painters sketched a little skull-and-crossbones on paper, endowed not with a skull, but with my face, my mouth open in a gasp; and this warning they hung upon that interdicted door as a reminder. They meant it doubtless as a jest, but to me, the door was terrible, as ghastly in its secrets as legendary Bluebeard's door, behind which his dead, white wives sat at table, streaked with blood from their slit throats.

We did not venture much out of the house and its grounds into the city that surrounded us. In the garden, we could hear its bustle, the horseshoes on stone cobbles and dirt, the conversation of sailors, the crying of onions and oysters in passageways. The men of that house feared that too much interaction with the world would corrupt me, and so I was, in the main, hidden away for my earliest years, as the infant Jove, snatched out of the gullet of Time, was reared by his horned nurse on Mount Ida in profoundest secrecy.

When we did go abroad, Mr. 03-01 warned me that I should not lean out at the window of the carriage, and should not show my face. He told me that, should I ever run away into the city, I would not return, but would be snatched up by evil men who would take me forever away from my mother. This was, I know now, but a half-lie.

Meet the Author

M. T. Anderson is the author of several books for children and young adults, including FEED, which was a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. M. T. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Even the title gives the reader a glimpse of the ostentatious nature of this incredible book. THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION is presented as a young adult title, which should in no way limit it only to the teen audience. Indeed, this book will be a challenge for many high school students -- a challenge well worth the effort.

M.T. Anderson immediately immerses his reader in the flowery, pretentious language spoken in the Revolutionary War period, a language that requires thought and concentration for today's reader. Once the reader is acclimated to the writing style, they are already hooked by Octavian's story. Octavian, an African prince, was sold while yet unborn, to one Mr.
Gitney, referred to as 03-01, of the Novanglian College of Lucidity. He was dressed in fine silks and fed the finest of fares. His mother was treated as the African princess she was, entertaining gentlemen, playing her harpsichord.

It was not until Octavian turned eight that he realized his life was not normal, that he was indeed one of the College's experiments. No other human being had their intake, as well as their body's waste, measured and recorded. Every word spoken, every situation, was a challenge to excel, an experiment to determine if the African race was capable of advanced thought and skill. Not all children, especially black children, were given the opportunity for a classical education. Octavian was already an accomplished violinist. He read all of the great literature, in several languages, including Greek and Latin. He understood figures, physics, and sciences of the earth. No discipline was left untouched in the quest to determine the potential of a slave to learn.

THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION is written from Octavian's point of view. Some passages are as though written by his own hand, then scribbled through, as if Octavian, with his vast education, still could not find the proper words to convey the horrors he had lived. His life of seeming luxury changes when the college's benefactor dies. Mr. Gitney entertains Lord Cheldethorpe in hopes that he will see fit to continue to finance the college as his uncle before him. For a time it seems that he is the solution to the College's financial distress. Especially since he has taken an acute interest in Octavian's mother. It is when she violently opposes his offer of her purchase, rather than a
royal marriage, that Octavian and his mother experience the outrage and beatings more typical in the life of a slave. To Octavian's great relief, Lord Cheldethorpe returns to England and a new financial supporter, Mr. Sharpe, is found.

But Mr. Sharpe changes the experiment. Now the lessons seem more designed to prove failure rather than success. When not engaged in his ¿lessons," Octavian is treated as a simple slave, along with his mother. Add to this the mounting unrest of the American nation, and fear is paramount. The entire household flees Boston to Canaan, Massachusetts. It is there that the most horrific experiment takes place. Mr. Gitney throws a pox party, whereby all, white and black alike, are ¿inoculated¿ against the small pox virus in hopes that they will be immune. Instead, Octavian witnesses pain and loss at the most personal level.....

Read the rest of this review at www.teensreadtoo.com
LiteraryObsession More than 1 year ago
This book was recommeded to me. I normally don't read this genre of books. This book is based on fact as the author points out at the end of the book. Octavian speaks to you of his life, and the atrocities commited against him. This book is definitly not for young children. The issues raised in this book show the true horrors of slavery during the American Revolution and the shady experiments performed by early scientists. The details in this book will chill you and you won't be able to put this book down. This is the type of book that breaks the tradition of the teen books that raise inappropriate topics. This book is the best I have ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am Isaiah and I recently finished reading the book the astonishing life of Octavian nothing. This book is set in the early American revolution. I found this book to be very good despite the reviews that I read before actually ready it. This book makes you think about what could happen next again and again trying to figure out a secret that the philosophers are trying so hard to stop people from finding out. Later in the story  Octavian's awareness grows, his  surroundings are brokend by stirrings of revolution. When the college's most prestigious experiment goes horribly wrong, an increasingly melancholy Octavian must make his own way in a rapidly changing world. The first part of the book was good but the beginning was kind of slow and dry. When reading this book I have connected small parts of my life with this book because Octavian learned latin and greek like im currently doing in my high school. Really anybody can relate there life to this book because everyone one point in their life has been curious about something that they cant have or just want to know about. Octavians life confused me as his mothers a queen and they both live with philosopher’s who deside to teach Octavian the meanings of life and every subject that he can learn possible . Finally my last thought’s on this book is that anybody who is looking for something with a twist at every turn a great secret that you have to find out  when your done reading and the quality of a good book. But one might not catch the fact that there are to plots to this book and I have to say that I love it. The book allows the reader to ask different questons while reading the story. Some people won’t like it if there not into a fairy tale type of a story. I recommend this book for ages 14 and up anybody lower in age won’t really understand what the book has t offer. Isaiah Graham
N_Sorensen More than 1 year ago
From what I have read so far, I have enjoyed The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. It is very interesting and I can't wait to read the second novel. The only problem is that the writing style might be hard for younger readers. I reccomend this book for high school students who are looking for a challenge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, set in the 1700's was a book about racial injustices. The Protagonist in this book was an African American boy who was brought up in an institute trying to prove whether or not a black man that was brought up in an educated way would be as productive as a white man. This boy was taught many things, including Latin and Greek. He was submitted to Smallpox. His life was an experiment, a joke, completely destroyed by a group of narrow minded scientists out to prove a point. If you enjoy stories where the protagonist is brought down by the system and in the end prevails over the system and learns from the experience, then you'll enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. Sharp, like the crack of a whip. A great book to stretch the minds of young people.
Pretend_Spoon More than 1 year ago
Surprising, intelligent, emotionally apt.
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Poncho More than 1 year ago
Very very interesting book...the reading level was a little difficult for me but it was great. It was different and unexpected...a must read.
Awesomeness1 More than 1 year ago
This book was intriguing to be sure, but not exactly entertaining. In order to be absorbed by this story, you have to be willing to invest the time, and be prepared with a dictionary, because, trust me, there are a lot of big words. The concept was certainly original, and is worth a try. When you've finished it, you put it down thinking you've accomplished something.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lover-of-comedy-and-books More than 1 year ago
I had seen this book on the shelf many times before I ever even read the back, but when I did I was immediately intrigued. The way it was describing the novel led me to believe it was science fiction. Boy, was I off! What this book was really about was a boy and his mother who had been sold to a group of men who's mission in life was to collect and discover as much knowledge as they could. These men had made the boy into a walking, living, breathing, experiment. I think it takes place during the Renaissance, he and his mother are African American slaves and are treated like nobles until another group of scholars take their prejudice to a new level. I read this book with a little disgust, with the awards on the cover I thought I would be saved from lewd descriptions. Now I take the saying "never judge a book by it's cover" to heart. I don't mean to put it down or anything, but the emotion that lingered in me after I finished was not warm and fuzzy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful, sophisticated, honest, and complex, the "Octavian Nothing" series takes readers into a new perspective of the 18th century American history through an unusual but honest, intelligent narrative. A journey in which one witnesses the recent depravity of civilization that betrayed the humanity for a collected ignorance.
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S_Nolz_Berk More than 1 year ago
I had no idea what this book was when I picked it up. When I started it and realized I was going to be reading yet another book about slavery, I felt just a little bit of a loss of enthusiasm. Then, I started to get pulled into the strange way of life in Octavian's home. I became fascinated with the "learned men" and with their treatment of Octavian and his mother. It was also interesting to read about slavery in Revolution time. It was a time when the slaves could look forward to freedom, not knowing about the ridiculous compromise the leaders of the young nation make.
Octavian's life is fascinating, and I look forward to reading the sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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